Why Outdoor Companies Are Boycotting Facebook
"For too long, Facebook has failed to take sufficient steps to stop the spread of hateful lies and dangerous propaganda on its platform"
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On June 17, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which asks businesses to suspend advertising on Facebook’s services during the month of July. The campaign’s partners, including Color of Change, Common Sense, Free Press, and Sleeping Giants, assert that the social-media platform has enabled “the incitement of violence against protesters fighting for racial justice” and has repeatedly turned a blind eye to issues that threaten American democracy.
Two days after the launch, the North Face became the biggest corporation to make the pledge, tweeting: “We’re in. We’re Out @Facebook #StopHateForProfit.” REI followed suit shortly after, tweeting: “For 82 years, we have put people over profits. We’re pulling all Facebook/Instagram advertising for the month of July.” Two days later, Patagonia signed on. Its statement read, in part, “For too long, Facebook has failed to take sufficient steps to stop the spread of hateful lies and dangerous propaganda on its platform.” In recent days, Arc’teryx and Eddie Bauer have also joined the boycott.
In all, nearly 100 companies have joined forces, but those within the outdoor industry have been at the forefront. An ADL spokesperson said they were not surprised by the outdoor industry’s involvement but were “pleased to see them lead the charge,” adding that “all of these companies have already shown a strong commitment to standing up to racism and taking action to make changes for the better in society.”
The campaign’s organizers say that Facebook makes 99 percent of its $70 billion in annual revenue through advertising. “Let’s send Facebook a powerful message,” the campaign’s website reads. “Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence.”
Outdoor recreation is among the nation’s largest economic sectors; the Outdoor Industry Association says it represents about $887 billion in consumer spending. The majority of that is spent on travel and transportation, but nearly $200 billion is spent on gear, apparel, and services.
Though some argue that the campaign will barely dent Facebook’s revenue—according to Quartz, Facebook has around eight million advertisers—the campaign’s organizers note that their goals are not strictly financial, pointing to the symbolic impact of industry leaders joining the boycott. And it might be working. On June 18, the day after the campaign was announced, Facebook removed ads from President Trump’s reelection campaign that featured Nazi symbols.
For years, many outdoor companies have been vocal on political issues, primarily those focused around environmental concerns related to climate change and public lands. However, it’s not entirely unprecedented for the industry to speak up on social issues. Patagonia, for example, has been critical of Facebook in the past, and several of the companies currently involved have expressed support for LGBTQIA+ rights. The North Face cites its Explore Fund as an example of its commitment to equitable access to outdoor spaces. But “the outdoor industry as a whole has a lot of work to do,” says Steve Lesnard, global vice president of marketing and product for the North Face.
On June 1, Grace Anderson, director of operations and strategic partnerships at the advocacy organization PGM ONE, wrote a piece on Medium listing seven “starting points” for those in the industry serious about racial equity, including divesting from companies that “create harmful/unsafe environments for Black folks.” The story, titled “Outdoor Industry: We Don’t Want Your Hashtags, We Want Action!,” was widely circulated in the outdoor community. “A global uprising against anti-black racism and white supremacy is happening and yet the outdoor industry is mostly silent,” Anderson wrote.
“We’re in a major cultural moment of pain and recognition that is long overdue,” Lesnard says. “We have a role to play in supporting the Black community and combating systemic racism in the U.S. and within our own organization.”
In the past, it’s been good for business for outdoor companies to take a stand. But it’s too early to know how this move will affect any company’s bottom line. “That’s yet to be seen,” says Scott Borden, director of the Outdoor Industry MBA program at Western Colorado University. “But if I was a betting man, I would bet on it being a good business strategy.” More importantly, he adds, “it’s the right thing to do.”
Borden is optimistic that the outdoor industry is in a position to lead the way. “It’s a values-driven industry more than pretty much any other industry I can think of,” he says. “I like to think that’s the piece that’s driving this, instead of just the bottom line.”
For her part, Anderson is glad to see outdoor companies quickly signing on to the campaign. “I think it’s a really solid step in the right direction,” she says. She hopes the companies are addressing equity and justice internally, too, “by supporting their BIPOC employees and standing up against hate and White supremacy within their organizational culture.”
Of course, it will take much more than a single campaign to achieve the goals social-justice leaders have laid out. “We are just getting started,” Anderson wrote in early June. “Join us or get left behind.”