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Kim Kardashian West, Mark Ruffallo, and Sascha Baron Cohen are “freezing” their Instagram and Facebook accounts today, as part of Stop Hate For Profit, a campaign against Facebook’s inaction in the face of racism, bigotry, and disinformation on its platform ahead of the U.S. presidential election.
Facebook’s inability and unwillingness to tame the biggest social media platforms in the world has implicated the company in everything from genocide in Myanmar to the election of Donald Trump in 2016. That celebrities want to help pressure into doing anything about this is admirable, but the notion that they can do so by withholding Instagram posts for a day is ridiculous.
Stop Hate For Profit is a coalition of like-minded organizations like the NAACP and Color Of Change that are trying to force Facebook to actually do something about all the hate speech on its platform. “Large groups dedicated to hate and violent conspiracies grow unchecked, and Facebook often recommends users join these groups. Political ads contain bald-faced lies, and even outright voter suppression,” the Stop Hate For Profit website says. “Misinformation and conspiracies on COVID-19, vaccines, climate change and the Holocaust are considered matters of debate. Victims of online harassment are left with virtually no support.”
All that’s true. It is devastatingly and astonishingly true, as in the case of the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, where Facebook was used as a tool to incite violence against muslim Ruhingyas. Facebook admitted that its platform had a role in the ethnic cleansing, with Alex Warofka, a Facebook product policy manager saying, “We agree that we can and should do more.”
Knowing how brutally Facebook can be used, it’s hard to be mad at Kardashian et al for taking a stand against it. It’s just, I don’t know, not posting for one day doesn’t seem like it’s going to do anything.
Kim Kardashian West previously logged off in 2010, when she paired with Alicia Keys’ charity, Keep a Child Alive for World AIDS day. It’s worth noting that this was an event with a discrete and tangible goal; Kardashian West and other celebrities were going to log off until Keep A Child Alive raised a million dollars. Compared to that, Stop Hate For Profit’s endeavour seems even more toothless. It’s just part of a “Week of Action” meant to pressure Facebook and raise awareness about the issue.
In a real stinker of a year, celebrities have tried to make philanthropic gestures that have been more embarrassing than anything else. As COVID-19 spread in the U.S., celebrities like Gal Gadot, Will Ferrel, and Jamie Dornan sang a grating cover of John Lennon’s “Imagine” that came off as tone deaf. As the country erupted into protest over the death of George Floyd, influencer and celebrities on Instagram responded by posting black square, which had the unintended effect of overshadowing information about protests. In the midst of dire, urgent crises like those, it felt like these rich, powerful people were simply trying to insert themselves into these very important issues.
Theoretically I can understand the idea that Facebook will take a revenue hit for the corresponding dip in activity from these large accounts. Kardashian West especially has a massive, influential following on Instagram, and she uses the platform like an artist with a brush. It’s just that Facebook took in $70.7 billion last year. One day of lost revenue from Kardashian West is like a gnat landing on their leg; Irritating, if they even notice it.
In June of this year, Stop Hate For Profit successfully convinced several of Facebook’s biggest advertisers to pause their ads on the platform for all of July. That also doesn’t seem to have done anything. Like everything that’s happened this year, Facebook seems like an urgent, unstoppable force. It’s awful, but it’s a problem that rises from much deeper, harder to fix problem in our society. As we wrote back in July, part of the reason we can’t really stop Facebook by boycotting it is that you can’t boycott a monopoly. Fixing that problem requires significant antitrust reforms to fight Facebook, not a day of silence from the celebs.