As the US got engulfed in civil unrest after the death of George Floyd, the internet became consumed by new waves of cancel culture.
On one hand, some of the ire was directed toward Facebook as the largest social media network that was “not doing enough” to moderate and censor content that Black Lives Matter supporters disapproved of as hate speech – and on the other, individuals, small businesses and corporations became aware of the importance of not finding themselves on the wrong side of this tidal wave of activist outrage.
That’s how the Facebook boycott campaign was born, as a way for companies, big and small, to punish the platform by depriving it of some of its advertising dollars. But although joined by true behemoths like Disney, Unilever, and Volkswagen, it was limited in duration to just one month, and therefore looked like a performative, good press-seeking ploy, rather than a case of authentic wokeness.
As the boycott is expiring, The Guardian is looking at what it really means and ways in which its participants could prove their action is anything but “a PR stunt.”
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One way would be to expand the boycott, and the paper has found several past and current (anonymous) content moderators that spoke in favor of this. One said that Facebook’s lost revenue due to the boycott was negligible, and that while they supported scrutinizing Facebook’s policies in this way, the giant was now “retrenching,” making it hard to say what, if any, long-term results the campaign will have.
These moderators are employees of third-party companies that Facebook outsources to do its “dirty work” – not just in terms of having to act as censors, but also because they are not allowed to censor as much as some believe they should.
“When it comes to our mental health, we would feel much better if we could delete more. One of the stressing factors is that we have to leave on the platform things that we think are harmful and plain evil,” said one current moderator.
The accusation that Facebook isn’t taking proper action to protect mental well-being and improve working conditions for workers of companies it hires as contractors, has been present for a while.
Former moderator Chris Gray, who is suing Facebook because he says he developed PTSD, had this to say about the one-month boycott:
“Millions and millions of small businesses are going to have to pay for adverts: that’s all they can do. Mark Zuckerberg doesn’t care. He’s on record as saying they’ll be back. So I’ve got no faith that it will achieve anything.”