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A coalition of advocacy groups is calling on Facebook and Instagram users to log out of both platforms for one day in November to hold the company to account for “irresponsibility,” in a new campaign launched Wednesday.
The Facebook Logout campaign takes aim at what it says is the company’s role in a series of recent scandals, including the Jan. 6 insurrection and a pattern of “ignoring disinformation for profit.”
The campaign comes in the wake of a series of reports last week in the Wall Street Journal that revealed executives at Facebook knew its photo and video sharing platform Instagram had a negative impact on teen girls’ mental health, that it did little to act on staff reports of trafficking and other human rights violations, and that its executives ignored warnings that a change to content-ranking algorithms boosted divisive content and sensationalism.
The Facebook Logout campaign asks users to pledge to log off from Facebook and Instagram, its photo-sharing subsidiary, for 24 hours on Nov. 10. The campaign has a list of demands, including that CEO Mark Zuckerberg should step down, and that Facebook should immediately halt its “Instagram for Kids” project. It is spearheaded by Kairos, a tech-focused racial justice group.
Facebook’s most recent earnings report shows that 98.5% of its revenue comes from its advertising business, which uses reams of personal data about users to predict what kinds of ads they are likely to click on, then sells businesses the opportunity to place those ads.
“Companies like Facebook would have us believe that people are simply users of their platform and we should be grateful for the privilege of using Facebook, when in fact the opposite is true,” Kairos’ executive director Mariana Ruiz Fermat told TIME. “Through this campaign, we hope to change the way we think of ourselves as ‘users’ and our relationship to platforms.”
The Facebook Logout campaign’s organizers are confident that user action can still have an impact.
“Users logging off creates momentum that feeds into the need for greater regulation,” says Rishi Bharwani of Accountable Tech, a Washington-based tech reform advocacy group that is part of the coalition working on the Logout campaign. “These things all reinforce each other and create a groundswell of support for meaningful change.”
But in a world where social media is integral to our human relationships, as well as being the primary organizing tool for social activists, can a grassroots boycott of social media ever get off the ground?
“Facebook is everywhere. I got up this morning and posted about this campaign on Facebook,” says Jelani Drew-Davi, the Facebook Logout campaign director at Kairos.
“The focus of this campaign is showing people power, and showing that we do hold power as Facebook and Instagram users,” Drew-Davi says. “We don’t have to be complacent with whatever Facebook wants to do. Long term, we’re trying to change people’s mindset.”
It’s not the first time a campaign has attempted to convince users to drop the social network. Amid backlash to the Cambridge Analytica data scandal in 2018, the hashtag #DeleteFacebook trended online. The company’s stock price fell, but soon recovered. Facebook’s valuation has more than doubled since then, as advertisers continue to spend big money to reach users with targeted ads, even as the company’s reputation takes blow after blow.
When advertisers have taken a stand, it has had little impact. During the Black Lives Matter protests in the summer of 2020, more than 1,000 companies, including Ford and Coca-Cola, temporarily halted buying ads on Facebook after CEO Mark Zuckerberg refused to remove a post from President Donald Trump that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” (The Southern Poverty Law Center said the post “glorifies violence against protesters,” especially protesters of color.) Again Facebook’s stock price dropped but quickly recovered. Ford, Coca-Cola and many of the other advertisers involved in the boycott have since returned to posting ads on the social network.
“Black and brown people are the people who are most harmed when tech does things wrong,” Drew-Davi says. “That’s why it’s really important for us to take action from a racial equity lens.”
Kairos hopes that the Facebook Logout campaign’s approach will be more effective than past attempts by balancing the symbolic power of a mass log-off while harnessing social media as a tool for collective organizing.
“People use Facebook, not only to connect with each other, but also to organize for social change,” Drew-Davi says. “That’s the reason we’re not saying delete your account, or do it right now, even. All we’re asking is: take the pledge and join us later to log off. This is an opportunity to show our collective power.”