Facebook users unlikely to delete app but want brands to pull ads, poll finds

people want brands to stop advertising on Facebook following the latest turmoil inside the social media giant, according to a new Ad Age-Harris Poll.

By: Garett Sloane | Ad Age | Oct 11, 2021

Most people want brands to stop advertising on Facebook following the latest turmoil inside the social media giant, according to a new Ad Age-Harris Poll.

Despite the desire to see brands pull their ad support from Facebook, most of those surveyed aren’t compelled to delete the Facebook app.

Last week, Ad Age and The Harris Poll surveyed 1,014 people in the U.S., following Facebook “whistleblower” Frances Haugen’s testimony in the Senate, and the mass outage that shut down Facebook apps for hours. The survey delved into the opinions of the public on a number of issues, including the risk to brands from the Facebook fallout. The poll also asked if people were aware of the “finsta” debate sparked by Senator Richard Blumenthal, who created a “fake Instagram” account to demonstrate how the app could potentially lead teens to harmful content.

Of those people who were familiar with the issues raised by the “whistleblower,” 55% agreed brands and organizations should stop advertising on Facebook.

The poll also found that 78% of people said brands should be concerned about ads appearing next to negative content on websites or apps, and 54% of people said that they associate a brand with the unrelated content surrounding ads on social media and websites. Brand safety has been a recurring problem for advertisers on sites like Facebook, where content is personalized, customized by algorithms, to each user’s interests. Haugen claimed in her testimony that Facebook’s algorithm amplifies the most divisive and sensational posts, because that’s what generates the most engagement, leading to longer usage, and more ads served.

It was a topic that CEO Mark Zuckerberg addressed in a Facebook post last week. “The argument that we deliberately push content that makes people angry for profit is deeply illogical,” Zuckerberg said. “We make money from ads, and advertisers consistently tell us they don’t want their ads next to harmful or angry content. And I don’t know any tech company that sets out to build products that make people angry or depressed. The moral, business and product incentives all point in the opposite direction.”

Other key findings of the Harris Poll were that 63% of people were aware of Haugen’s assertion before Congress that Facebook prioritizes “making money over the well-being of its users.” Haugen took thousands of pages of documents, including internal Facebook research, when she left the company earlier this year. The files shined a light on how Facebook studies how Instagram affects teens, finding that a segment of younger users can feel worse about themselves after using the app. Facebook has disputed Haugen’s characterization of its research, and said that the fact it studied the problem showed that it cared about the well-being of teens.

“At the heart of these accusations is this idea that we prioritize profit over safety and well-being,” Zuckerberg said in his Facebook post. “That’s just not true.”

The public was more inclined to side with Haugen, according to the poll, with 77% of adults saying Facebook is more interested in protecting its bottom line than it is protecting its users.

Despite some of the negative sentiment, 62% of respondents said it was unlikely they would delete the Facebook app as a result. The majority of those surveyed (52%) said that time spent on Facebook is not worse for mental health than other apps, while 55% said that time spent on Instagram is not worse for mental health than other apps.

Still, 58% were likely to limit or stop their children from using Instagram.

People were not as familiar with Blumenthal’s “finsta” experiment, though, which became fodder for some online memes, with people making fun of the senator’s seeming lack of understanding of the phenomenon. Blumenthal asked Facebook’s head of global safety Antigone Davis to “commit to shutting down finsta.” Davis explained that it’s not technically a product that Facebook developed for Instagram. The “fake Instagram” accounts are a concern for parents who want to monitor when children are on the app.