Johnnie Walker owner stops Facebook ads in South Africa due to racism – but SAB ‘won’t be part of boycott’

Business Insider SA
Diageo, the owner of Johnnie Walker, has decided to stop local advertising on Facebook and Twitter.
  • The alcohol giant Diageo has joined Coca-Cola and Microsoft by stopping all local advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.
  • More than 750 companies across the world have suspended their advertising amid criticism that the platforms aren't doing enough to protect users from racism and hate speech.
  • Diageo expressed concerns about “unacceptable content, particularly racism” on the social media platforms.
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The alcohol giant Diageo has joined Coca-Cola and Microsoft in South Africa by stopping all local advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

In a statement, Diageo expressed concerns about “unacceptable content, particularly racism” on the social media platforms.

More than 750 companies across the world have suspended their advertising amid criticism that Facebook and Twitter aren't doing enough to protect users from hate speech.

READ | Coca-Cola South Africa stops ads on Facebook, Twitter in protest over racism, misinformation

The social media ad boycott has been gaining steam since 17 June, when a group of six non-profit US organisations wrote an open letter calling for advertisers to boycott Facebook.

The open letter followed Facebook's handling of a post from US President Donald Trump.

In late May, as the Black Lives Matter protests were starting to take root, Trump tweeted about protesters in Minneapolis: "When the looting starts, the shooting starts."

While Twitter decided to place the tweet behind a block warning users that it broke the platform's rules on glorifying violence, Facebook decided to leave the equivalent post untouched on its own platform, prompting outrage from US civil rights groups and Facebook's own employees.

Companies like Unilever (which owns brands like Surf, Omo, Knorr and Dove), Adidas, Starbucks and Ford have since stopped advertising on social media in the US. 

Diageo, which owns a number of whisky brands including Johnnie Walker, vodkas like Smirnoff and Ciroc, Tanqueray gin as well as Captain Morgan rum, said that it strives to promote inclusion and diversity.

“We urge our media partners to do more to tackle unacceptable racist content on their platforms,” Sibani Mngadi, Corporate Affairs Director at Diageo SA, said in a statement.

But Diageo’s local competitor SAB, which is part of AB InBev, told Business Insider that it will stick to Facebook and Twitter.

“We are not planning to be part of the boycott. The ongoing conversation regarding social media’s role in the current dialogue is bigger than any one platform or single moment in time. It will take an ongoing effort by all of us to combat hate and promote inclusive environments,” a SAB spokesperson said.

Nedbank has also confirmed that it will continue to advertise on social media.

“While we will advertise on these platforms, as a responsible corporate citizen, we expect greater responsibility from media partners as we strive for social cohesion in society,” a Nedbank spokesperson said. 

Other South African companies are still deciding what action to take.

An Outsurance spokesperson said that the company is currently monitoring the situation and “will make a decision in due course”. Absa only said that it is taking note of the Facebook boycott, and is yet to make a decision.

Faye Mfikwe, FNB chief marketing officer, said that the bank is talking to social media partners "to understand their plans to prevent the use of their platforms to spread hate speech and misinformation". “FNB supports the global condemnation of hate speech and misinformation that is often disseminated through social media platforms."

Coca-Cola told Business Insider that the company will pause all local advertising on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and TikTok until the end of July. It will also stop posting content on these platforms during this time. Microsoft confirmed reports that it has stopped social media advertising, globally.

(Compiled by Helena Wasserman)

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