NTEN says goodbye to Facebook

Last week, I shared the following message in our monthly newsletter:

Do you remember when Mitt Romney famously declared, “Corporations are people”? Well, when it comes to Facebook, that person is a big jerk. One that individuals and organizations have a complicated relationship with.

Whether it’s the Cambridge Analytica data leak, election interference by foreign powers, or an unwillingness to stop the spread of conspiracy theories and hate speech, Facebook seems to consistently pick the wrong side of history.

On a personal level, I acknowledge that Facebook is the primary channel for staying connected to friends and family members for many folks. And as we’ve quarantined these last few months, that connection may have been a lifeline for many.

On a business level, Facebook’s advertising platform is unparalleled. Sure there are other digital platforms, but they lack Facebook’s reach and efficiency. For small businesses struggling to survive the pandemic, advertising is a crucial connection to customers.

But some corporate advertisers have decided that Facebook’s unwillingness to deal with the racism and calls for violence by its users warrant a boycott. They’ve pulled their advertising through July. It’s an attempt to force Facebook to change its hands-off approach, but realistically, does anyone believe Facebook — specifically Mark Zuckerberg — will make any meaningful change?

NTEN doesn’t. That’s why we’ve already pulled our ads from Facebook and Instagram. We’ve also stopped posting to both sites. This is, admittedly, symbolic. I doubt Facebook noticed when our tiny ad budget was pulled. It also doesn’t cost us anything. NTEN can not only survive but continue to grow without Facebook’s assistance. That’s an organizational privilege I know not every organization shares.

We may return to posting (but not advertising) eventually, but the truth is, we’re not sure what the point would be. By the very nature of Facebook’s intentional design, organic reach has declined over the years, necessitating spending money on advertising. NTEN has many great things to offer, but none of it generates funny or moving videos that go viral. Why should we spend our limited time and resources chasing diminishing engagement? And why should we provide Facebook with more content and dollars?

Besides, Facebook has never been all that beneficial for nonprofits. What it cares about is business advertising. Whatever it offers nonprofits is just a slapdash paint job on the business offerings. I’m sure its employees care about philanthropy. Still, it’s clear that as a company, Facebook cares only as far as public relations go.

While it doesn’t cost us anything to leave, it would cost us a great deal to stay. Probably like your organization, NTEN spent a lot of time identifying and articulating our values. Supporting Facebook would not only be antithetical to our values, but it would also actively undermine them.

So that’s where NTEN stands. What about you and your organization?

That wasn’t an empty question. Many folks responded to say that it started a really important conversation among their communications team.

Community members shared how important Facebook is for their organization:

  • “We raised close to $280k in April alone.”
  • “I came from that part of the world, where for so many of us, the internet means Facebook.”

Folks shared some of the reality they are in:

  • “How can someone whose job requires a constant social media presence also balance a personal life that is begging for less?”
  • “Plus there’s the reality that, for nonprofits, when donors give via the FB platform they remain anonymous to the charity — making stewardship and ongoing cultivation impossible. So fundraising that way becomes transactional, never transformational.”
  • “This is a good reminder that not only do we need to evaluate our technology use because this space changes more and more rapidly each day (as technology tends to do); but that some of these platforms are more than just tools and have become the infrastructure for influencing culture and institutions alike in our larger community.”

And comments about what else to use:

  • “Are you putting the attention that went to Facebook into particular other services which you feel better about?”
  • “Is there another option that provides instant connections to our supporters?”

And, of course, one of the big questions regarding our decision: “Do you really think that nonprofits pulling their ad revenue would even make a blip on their balance sheet?”

As I said at the beginning, this is complicated! For organizations that do a lot of community mobilization, offline event organizing, or community fundraising, Facebook likely has been — and may continue to be — an essential part of your digital toolkit. And, using Facebook to advance your mission is certainly something I respect.

But being easy to use means it’s also easy to overlook the data and privacy implications for those you serve, the policy impacts on your content and community, and the opportunity cost on your resources. Whether you’re advertising your programs, organizing your community, or raising money for your work, I hope your organization will have an informed conversation about Facebook’s benefits and drawbacks.

Because many folks want to continue this conversation, and because many factors may influence how an organization chooses to use Facebook, we’re organizing a discussion for later this month. We’ll post registration details for the free event in the coming days and hope you’ll join us then to raise more questions and add to the conversation. Once the call is scheduled, we’ll share the details on Twitter and LinkedIn, so please follow us there.

Amy Sample Ward
CEO
NTEN
Driven by a belief that the nonprofit technology community can be a movement-based force for positive change, Amy is NTEN’s CEO and former membership director. Her prior experience in direct service, policy, philanthropy, and capacity-building organizations has also fueled her aspirations to create meaningful, inclusive, and compassionate community engagement and educational opportunities for all organizations. Amy inspires the NTEN team and partners around the world to believe in community-generated change. She believes technology can help nonprofits reach their missions more effectively, efficiently, and inclusively, and she’s interested in everything from digital equity to social innovation.