Hate speech on social media can significantly damage brands: Study

20% reported liking an advertiser less after seeing ads on social media alongside user-generated hate speech.

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Hate speech on social media can significantly damage brands advertising on those platforms, according to a new study.

The study, conducted by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Southern California, surveyed over 3,000 respondents who were shown simulated negative, positive and neutral posts with adjacent ads on Facebook, Instagram and X — which was still known as Twitter at the time, in February and March 2023. 

Dig deeper: 8 tips on how to handle negative Facebook comments

One-fifth of respondents reported liking an advertiser less after seeing ads on social media with hate speech, and there was a 35% drop in the number of people willing to click on those ads. The survey also found that the hate ads caused a large change in net favorability, with sentiment toward advertisers shifting from favorable to neutral. There was an even larger drop in favorability sentiment towards the media platforms themselves.

Methodology. The survey experiments examined how user-generated hate speech posted on social media would impact social media users’ opinions of social media websites and apps, and the brands that advertise on them. Survey respondents were shown simulated negative, positive, and neutral posts on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter in February and March 2023. The text-and-image posts were shown adjacent to advertisements from an oral care brand, a car manufacturer, and a home improvement retailer, to replicate the feel of scrolling through social media feeds.

The more liked a brand was, the bigger the change in favorability. 

“While 66% of respondents reported a favorable view of the oral care brand after seeing the positive post and 70% reported a favorable view after viewing a neutral post, only 57% reported a favorable view of the brand after viewing a negative post,” the report stated. “Given that the oral care brand had high baseline favorability, these results could suggest that brands with the highest favorability may be especially vulnerable to negative impact on brand perception caused by proximity to user-generated hate speech posts.”

Why we care. To start with, this is even more bad news for X, nee Twitter. A different report found that X/Twitter didn’t take any action on 86% of 300 posts reported for hate speech. (X owner Elon Musk is suing the Center for Countering Digital Hate, which published the report. He is charging they caused advertisers to leave.) 

Also, this further cements the importance of brand safety, close monitoring of social media and only working with platforms that work to maintain a civil environment. Being seen anywhere near a group advocating for the denial of basic rights to people can have long-lasting effects.

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About the author

Constantine von Hoffman
Constantine von Hoffman is managing editor of MarTech. A veteran journalist, Con has covered business, finance, marketing and tech for CBSNews.com, Brandweek, CMO, and Inc. He has been city editor of the Boston Herald, news producer at NPR, and has written for Harvard Business Review, Boston Magazine, Sierra, and many other publications. He has also been a professional stand-up comedian, given talks at anime and gaming conventions on everything from My Neighbor Totoro to the history of dice and boardgames, and is author of the magical realist novel John Henry the Revelator. He lives in Boston with his wife, Jennifer, and either too many or too few dogs.

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