Why I am Giving Up Facebook, Google, and Amazon for Lent
(and Challenging You to Do the Same!)
In 2008, I accidentally endorsed the Republican Party Platform – or so it seemed. And this was confusing, since I’d written about why I couldn’t support their positions on the issues and wouldn’t be voting for their candidate. I noticed that the AdSense block on my sidebar was showing political ads. Though politics has never been the primary focus of this blog, it stands to reason – algorithmically speaking – that political ads would appear alongside political opinion posts. But what I hadn’t anticipated was that they would be exclusively Republican ads – endorsing candidates and positions I opposed.
Horrified at the larger implications of this, I forcibly ripped AdSense off my sites – and Google has since implemented features that let users block certain types of content, such as political ads, ads for cigarettes or drugs, ads for sex toys, ads for casinos and online gambling. Companies can also block their ads from appearing on certain domains, and this is an important feature when placing ads through a third-party service. It’s important for brands to be able to control their image and message and to comply with their own standards of business conduct.
Third parties sometimes try to wash their hands of all responsibility in the name of doing what their clients want them to do. Within the bounds of the law, that’s fine – that’s their choice. I don’t object to companies choosing to advertise on Breitbart; I simply don’t want to support them in profiting from hate and bigotry. I don’t want to turn a blind eye to the hypocrisy of companies that spend their ad dollars on a site that works to further divide the American people – not just along political party lines, but on issues of race, ethnicity, religion, gender – issues that go to the core of who we are, as human beings – when this violates their own corporate principles and standards. I don’t want to support them in profiting from ads placed on a site that, directly and indirectly, harms those advertisers’ employees and customers. That’s my choice.
Over 1,300 companies have made the same choice, and I applaud them. For some, ‘It wasn’t even a question’: The simple calculation for pulling advertising off Breitbart. I’m proud and happy to work for one of them, and relieved that I don’t have to boycott my cell phone company or Twitter. But Facebook, Google, and Amazon? Really? You are breaking my heart. How Do Google, Amazon, And Facebook Justify Advertising With Breitbart?
“Google and Facebook seem to consider Breitbart’s hate speech like any other ‘political affiliation or beliefs’ ― not unrepentant hate speech that degrades entire religions and genders. Both companies, in effect, are normalizing and condoning hate speech as acceptable political expression.”
Also, ads are commercial speech – no one is saying Breitbart doesn’t have the First Amendment right to spew offensive opinions, so long as they’re not inciting unlawful acts and hate crimes; we’re saying that we don’t want our dollars supporting them while they do it.
Mechanics of a Boycott
You cannot change the world by leaving it.
This is the epiphany I had, last year, after deactivating my Facebook account for nearly a month in protest of their stance on kiddie porn – their multiple replies of “This does not violate our Community Standards,” and their silence when confronted on it on both Facebook and Twitter. Others reported the same images and got the same responses, so this was not merely a one-off or a fluke. The image in question was an extremely graphic pen-and-ink illustration of two small children engaging in a sex act with a smiling adult woman. If there is any doubt in your mind, this is not merely disgusting – not merely a “violation of community standards” – it is illegal in the US, where Facebook is headquartered. The page in question was later closed by the owner, after Facebook deemed a reported nude photo of an adult woman “a violation of community standards.” Facebook had declined to take action, and was eventually able to wash its hands of any responsibility for doing so.
And so I left – angry, disgusted, and disappointed, I deactivated my Facebook account. It was surprisingly easy to do. I didn’t miss it much. I did notice, with dismay, how many other sites I log into, using Facebook credentials. Deactivating my account was eye-opening.
Unfortunately, I missed my Facebook friends and they missed me. Many of them also missed the explanation for my absence, which was then hidden from them by my deactivating my account. And it was painfully clear that my sulking in the corner wasn’t making a dent in Facebook’s bottom line – or, more importantly, influencing change.
Although I’m not Catholic, I do greatly admire Pope Francis. It hit me: He sees sin in the world, but doesn’t change it by jumping off a cliff or living as a reclusive hermit. He reaches out to all people with firm resolve and compassionate persuasion. When viewed in that light, to think that I could simply deactivate my Facebook account and effect change was nothing more than hubris.
So, this year, I’m taking a temporary break. I’m not deactivating my account, and while I’d hoped to change my privacy settings so that all past posts were visible only to me, that’s not possible. They are now set to “Friends only,” and that will have to do. I will be posting a link to this blog, and trying hard to mindfully neglect some of my favorite sites: Facebook, Google, and Amazon. After all, addiction is habit, and social media habits are hard to break, especially when they’re so well-integrated into our lives and our mobile phones.
Meanwhile, I challenge you to join me in neglecting Facebook, Google, and Amazon or using them mindfully – and as a platform for speaking out firmly and resolutely against hate speech and other, more subtle forms of bigotry.
Facebook Neglect Strategy
Set your posts to “Friends Only” (making it somewhat harder for them to use your posts in marketing efforts).
Then, check out this page, and share it widely:
Next, go to your Facebook Ads settings. Review how Facebook ads work, and mindfully set your preferences here.
Think they know too much about you, based on past posts? They probably do. Want to see what marketing categories they’ve lumped you into? You can also remove yourself from your assigned categories, if you want to – just hover over them and click the X in the upper right corner of each one you don’t like:
I’ll admit that I’m impressed they’ve pegged me as politically “moderate.” It’s accurate, but it’s about as astutely observant as people who correctly identify me as an introvert. Introverts can be outgoing and friendly, too. It may put us into a three-day coma, afterwards, but we can be!
I’d rather receive relevant ads than random ads, so I don’t generally turn off the ad preferences altogether. It’s nice to know that I can self-select the categories to opt out of. I’m also a tiny bit impressed that they can see through my occasional attempts to **** with them, and haven’t put me into some really weird categories.
Post ONE time: Let friends know how else they can keep in touch with you. Then leave quietly for the next 30-40 days; no fanfare or drama needed. If you continue to use the site, consider sharing positive posts about the companies that have stood up against hate, in spite of the inevitable, trollish backlash, before their wallets forced them to do so. Shop these companies first, and consider whether you really need anything from the ones still advertising on sites that spread hate and fear.
Google Neglect Strategy
Well, this one could be a challenge.
At first, my brilliant plan was just to use DuckDuckGo as my search engine. Then it hit me: I have to lay off the GMail, too, if I’m going to be a purist about this. That may have to wait until I set up my new PC, because although I do have email accounts under my own domain, keeping up with them is just not as easy as keeping up with GMail. With any luck, Outlook will run more efficiently on the new PC and I’ll be able to cut the cord. But wait…
Microsoft isn’t on the confirmed list from Sleeping Giants. Nor is Yahoo. And I can’t stand webmail. Any suggestions? Besides, “switch to Linux”?
Just don’t look for me on Google+. I’ve removed AdSense, and vow not to click any AdChoices ads, anywhere, unless Google and other ad networks that use it stop supporting hate speech.
How many sites do I connect with via Google credentials? The list of things that will break, if I don’t use Google at all, is daunting. Pass the Advil.
Note that Taboola sponsored links also appear on Breitbart. If you’ve never noticed, Taboola (and Outbrain, too) run most of the ads that masquerade as “related content” – they even appear on far too many legitimate websites. They’re notorious for click-baity images and headlines that are not much more than a front for ads and sensationalized, fake “news” stories on pages and pages heavily weighed down by ads.
Amazon Neglect Strategy
This one hurts. As a Prime Member who has already renewed for the year, I’ll be missing out on easy shopping, good deals, free two-day shipping, and binge-watching the few TV shows and movies they throw our way without adding on subscriptions to Starz or HBO or other cable providers. They’re getting as bad about those add-on, package deals as a regular cable provider.
It’s time I rediscover shopping local. And perhaps it’s time, too, I ponder the environmental impact of free, two-day shipping. And I’m really digging @Netflix – if it’s still advertising on Breitbart, it’s only to be a thorn in their side, no doubt.
Meanwhile, I do have other, more serious concerns:
Kudos to @HP, which is on the confirmed list of companies that have opted not to advertise on Breitbart; however, ads prominently featuring their products still appear there via @Amazon. Anyone selling products on Amazon should be concerned about this. As an author, I am.
If you can’t quite cut the cord on Amazon Prime, and you’re concerned about folks in Congress who can’t tell facts from “alternative facts,” consider sending them a copy of A New Leaf for Lyle. This is a non-partisan suggestion; the book is a gentle, loving reminder of how lying damages trust, as well as how important trust is in a good relationship. Or, shop Amazon – shop it lots. Use smile.amazon.com and set your charity to ACLU or Planned Parenthood.
Where to Find Me
Like I said, unless you’re ready to cut the cord for good, there’s no point deactivating or deleting accounts. But for the next month or so, I’d prefer it if you’d comment here on the blog or reach me on Twitter @HollyJahangiri. (To reach me privately, go ahead and use email – or text messaging.) I will be ignoring Facebook, Google, and Amazon as best I can. Because I do think that corporations – especially if they want to pretend to be people in order to claim Constitutional rights – ought to behave in ways that are morally and ethically sound towards one another, their employees, and their customers in all the parts of the world where they do business. I’m all for them maintaining a certain amount of political neutrality; to do otherwise would alienate people on both sides of the aisle. But there does come a point where we all need to draw a line and say:
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