Patagonia is boycotting Facebook, which raises the question: should other companies be following in their footsteps? Patagonia Chief Executive Ryan Gellert urged Facebook to “prioritize people and planet over profit.”
As of June 2020, Patagonia stopped all paid advertising on Facebook due to the use of its platform to spread hate speech and misinformation. Patagonia reiterated their decision in October 2021 in an announcement by Chief Executive Ryan Gellert. The announcement followed internal Facebook documents, referred to as “The Facebook Files” by the Wall Street Journal, being made public. These documents were leaked by former Facebook product manager and whistleblower Frances Haugen. These documents revealed how the social media platform has exacerbated negative self-image in teenage girls, violence in developing countries like India, the spread of misinformation regarding the 2020 Presidential election and other political conspiracy theories, and the spread of hate-speech. The “Facebook Files” confirmed many of Haugen’s allegations that Facebook allowed for misinformation about the presidential election, and that the company was not doing enough to counter it.
Patagonia is boycotting Facebook for all the company’s shortcomings, but specifically for the spread of hate speech and misinformation about climate change and US democracy. Gellert also referred to the Facebook documents saying, Facebook knows “the irreparable damage that their lack of accountability causes their three billion users and the corrosive effects that has on society itself. Facebook’s executives know what steps it can take to mitigate such harm - yet they have repeatedly failed to reform.” Patagonia will continue its advertising boycott until Facebook ensures that its platforms mitigate harm. Gellert acknowledged that Patagonia has been affected by its advertising boycott but didn’t specify the impact. In his statement, he also added that Patagonia and the environmental nonprofits that it supports have “learned to adapt” as a result.
Patagonia’s advertising boycott parallels the #StopHateforProfit campaign. The Stop Hate for Profit campaigns called for an ad pause in June 2020, asking companies to halt spending on Facebook and Instagram ads. The campaign also aims to hold social media companies, like Facebook, accountable for spreading divisive content. Also in June 2020, companies like The North Face, REI, Ben & Jerry’s, Verizon, and Coca-Cola announced that they would join the boycott along with many others.
More companies should be taking action like Patagonia is. While some companies may have only boycotted for a month or so, Patagonia has remained vigilant in their efforts and have boycotted for 17 months now. Patagonia is not just trying to get Facebook to remedy its faults, but they’re also continuing to prioritize people and the planet over profits as Gellert says. Patagonia is taking the action that other large companies need to be taking as well.
The Facebook documents have revealed the corruption within the company and their refusal to take the necessary steps to mitigate harm. It is a reasonable demand for Facebook to take action against hate-speech and the spread of misinformation; the company has a responsibility to reduce any occurrence of these things. Its platforms are used by people of all ages, from young children to adults, and it is used for all different purposes like entertainment, news, and organization. Facebook should be protecting vulnerable populations, such as young children, against harmful or inappropriate content. It should not be allowed to be used to organize and incite violence or spread false information that could lead to violence. Certain political content cannot be boiled down to opinion if it has potentially harmful or negative effects on society.
Patagonia has an initiative called Patagonia Works which functions to develop new companies or investments with common values that will make good on their commitment to “save our home planet.” Patagonia Works “aims to invest in companies working to bring about positive change in four critical areas: clothing, food, energy, and waste.” The company also employs a 1% Planet earth-tax, which donates 1% of sales to grassroots environmental groups. All companies under Patagonia Works will be organized as a benefit corporation (B corp). B corps are a kind of corporation which commits to a higher standard of purpose, accountability, and transparency, as well as committing to prioritizing social and environmental values over profits.
Patagonia goes above and beyond the actions of most other companies who barely achieve the bare minimum in terms of environmental and social action. Patagonia remains committed to its social and environmental values and models behaviors others should follow, from its Facebook advertising boycott to its distinction as a B corp.