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Blog Post

Facebook is the New Big Tobacco

Let’s respond with the same sense of urgency
November 12, 2021


The recent coverage of Facebook’s manipulative practices is hardly an anomaly. Through its 17-year history, the company has built its fortunes through exploitation, manipulation, and deceit.

Its own internal research showed that its algorithm radicalizes and polarizes many of its users. It helped foment the deadly Jan. 6 insurrection at the U.S. Capitol. It amplifies misinformation that has increased vaccine hesitancy and harmful conspiracy theories. And it has helped radical leaders to come to power by turning a blind eye to disinformation networks.

There is a precedent for this type of corporate behavior.

For decades, Big Tobacco has preyed on people through its deceitful and manipulative practices. The tobacco industry knew perfectly well, as evidenced through a trove of research exposed in the 1990s, that it was addicting kids and killing its customers. Big Tobacco put profits over people.

And just as businesses and communities had to make a choice in the 1990s – to either ignore the clear evidence that tobacco was killing people to make a profit or to take a stand against Big Tobacco – we need to make a choice today.

Back then, most of our competitors in the public affairs sector happily cashed tobacco industry checks. It was easy money but we never took it.
In fact, our roots are in the anti-tobacco movement. More than 20 years ago, CEO Susan Morrisey led the state’s tobacco prevention coalition and hired SE2 to support the nonprofit’s work. She chose SE2 based on our already strong record in the tobacco prevention movement at that time.

SE2 helps clients create meaningful, positive change. We collaborate with clients to improve teens’ mental health and wellness, and bring people together to solve today’s toughest issues.

Facebook and its Instagram platform contribute to teens’ anxiety and depression and amplify content that further divides society.

To put it bluntly: Facebook’s actions stand in direct conflict with our values and our clients’ goals. And so, we can no longer idly sit by and ignore the intentional harm that Facebook commits.

Until Facebook institutes meaningful changes that contribute to our collective good, we will no longer recommend to our clients that they spend money on its products, including paid promotion of their content on Facebook or Instagram. Furthermore, SE2 will no longer spend its own money on Facebook’s platforms. (In just the past two years, our own spending on Facebook platforms totaled over $15,000.)

Just as we turned down Big Tobacco dollars in the late-90s – joining public health’s fight to protect people against deadly products – we now choose to stop supporting Facebook.

We recognize that we’re a small fish and that the revenue Facebook loses from our decision to pull advertising dollars off its platform won’t put the tiniest dent in its earnings.

But when is it enough? For us, it’s now.

We’re asking our clients, other agencies, and advertisers to join us (and the dozens of other human rights, public health, nonprofit and private businesses) in demanding change.

Not giving Facebook our money is one small thing we can do to live our values, but, perhaps more importantly, it also brings greater public awareness and public pressure on Facebook to change and will protect us from other digital media networks that attempt the same harmful tactics.

Together we can solve our world’s biggest challenges – and Facebook is one of the main problems right now.

We welcome the opportunity to discuss and debate this decision with our clients, partners and colleagues across the industry. Do you have questions, comments or concerns? Let’s talk.

Eric Anderson | Eric [at] SE2ChangeForGood [dot] com

Susan Morrisey | Susan [at] SE2ChangeForGood [dot] com

Brandon Zelasko | Brandon [at] SE2ChangeForGood [dot] com