In October 2017, in an interview with the Polish satirist and cartoonist, Paweł Kuczyński, I brought up the fraught question of using social media, especially Facebook, while sustaining criticism against these platforms. Neither of us had an explicit answer to this paradox. That was then.
As a former boycott coordinator for Unite Here, I worked to bring down corporations that refused to negotiate with their workers in good faith. The boycott team, as we were called, consisted of a small cadre of mostly young union activists. We were the last line of defense. If negotiations broke down and a strike was called, the boycott team would assemble. We targeted the companies themselves, oftentimes with early morning bull-horn shouts of “Boycott X” at various hotels around the country. We also targeted their clients. One of my proudest moments was when Susan Dorn, a lawyer for the United States Green Building Council, called me after a very personal months’ long running battle, which involved the Mayor of Boston and Desmond Tutu, to tell me that they would be withdrawing from their contract with Aramark at the Boston Convention Center and flying in unionized catering staff from Washington, D.C.
But again, that was then. 2008 is a long time ago, especially in “2020 years”; subjective and objective time seems to have been distorted beyond all recognition. So, as a former boycott coordinator, I know when a boycott is working. I also know when it is time to ask which side am I on? I have been asking myself this question regarding my use of Facebook for several years, and this question has intensified in the last several months. My writer’s page has cultivated over 24,000 fans. I have reached the 5,000 person limit for friends. Facebook posts are responsible for about 90% of the traffic that comes to this site. As a writer, I like readers. I want people to read my stuff. Yet, I cannot countenance being party to an organization that partners with white nationalist right-wing ‘fact-checkers,’ the Trump administration,helped facilitate genocide against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, exploits vulnerable people in places like the Philippines to ‘clean’ content that should never be allowed to be posted in the first place. And on top all of that, Facebook CEO, Founder and creepy, sexist real-life comic villain, Mark Zuckerberg seems intent on digitally colonizing Africa and parts of Asia.
The filmmakers said the moderators, who are usually the breadwinners in their family, earn the equivalent of $1 to $3 an hour in the country where work is tough to find. Their pay depends on the position. For example, Block said, there are Syrian refugees working in Manila whose language skills are considered specialized, so they make $3 an hour.
So back the point (I can see when boycotts are working) and subsequent question (which side am I on?) that I raised above: If Facebook is too toxic for a companies like Unilever and Verizon, then it is too toxic for me. The problem with Facebook is its ubiquity; while it has seen flat or declining user-ship in the US and Europe, it is booming in places recently entering full-participation in Internet Age, so called ’emerging markets’  . Digital colonization is alive, and Facebook is putting many resources into the new gold rush for data in nations spanning the entire African continent and much of South and Southeast Asia.
“Daily active users reached 1.62 billion, up 9 per cent compared to last year, led by growth in India, Indonesia, and the Philippines. This represents approximately 66 per cent of the 2.45 billion monthly active users in September,” Facebook Chief Financial Officer David Wehner said during an investor call. (Oct. 2019)
In doing so, the outdoor retailer [The North Face] became the first big-name brand to sign onto Stop Hate for Profit, a new campaign led by civil rights groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP as well as liberal advocacy groups Free Press and Sleeping Giants.
Other brands that have signed on include:
- Eddie Bauer
- Canadian outdoor clothing brand Arc’teryx
- Recruiting company Upwork
- Hollywood studio Magnolia Pictures
- Ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s
- Clothing designer Eileen Fisher
- wireless provider Verizon
- CPG giant Unilever
The pressure has led even the largest international advertisers to (at least claim) to reexamine their media spends. Procter & Gamble chief brand officer Marc Pritchard said the company would review every channel it advertises on, but did not commit to the boycott. (Why This Facebook Boycott Is Different, 25 July 2020)