You & Mr Jones founder David Jones thinks Facebook has been "stupid" over its approach to policing hate speech on the platform and has warned that the tech giant could disappear within 10 years unless it tries to become a "force for good" in the world.
Speaking to Campaign for this week's episode of the Campaign podcast, Jones reflected on his time as a founding member of Facebook's client council, during which he spoke one on one to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg about brand purpose. Jones is also the author of a 2011 book about purpose called Who Cares Wins.
A growing number of brands and US ad agencies have announced temporary advertising boycotts of Facebook as a protest over the platform’s apparent unwillingness to remove hate speech and racist content.
Jones said: "I think [Facebook] are accidentally doing really bad and stupid stuff rather than deliberately doing it… I think it just comes from a place of not really understanding the impact and reverbations of the decisions you make from having strong views on things, on what you should and shouldn’t as a platform be doing.
"But what they need to understand is that those views are wrong and Facebook could be the most powerful force for good in the world. At the moment, there are many people who think it’s the largest force for bad in the world, and what they need to do is acknowledge that and change their decisions."
Jones knows the social media sector well and You & Mr Jones, which now holds majority stakes in companies as diverse as Oliver and Gravity Road, is an investor in Pinterest.
He compared Facebook’s journey with that of Twitter, which has in recent months progressively taken a stronger stance on content moderation and political advertising. Jones said Twitter should be "commended" for putting warning labels on misleading content, for example.
Jones insisted that even though only a small number of brands have so far announced they would pull adspend from Facebook to protest against its policies, these actions do have an impact on consumers, who may be encouraged to leave the platform, which in turn makes Facebook less appealing for advertisers.
"A lot of this is to do with his [Zuckerberg’s] beliefs and those beliefs are not in keeping with how the world is today," Jones added, before insisting that Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg are values-driven people, as evidenced by the former’s philanthropy and the latter’s Lean In movement to empower women in the workplace.
Nevertheless, Jones warned that Facebook could suffer the same fate as Yahoo, which was a tech giant 10 years ago and no longer exists today.
"If they do that [try do be a force for good in the world], they will have very successful future. If they don’t do that, you will see them go the way of Yahoo and AOL, and all the other big tech platforms that once were massive and we no longer talk about any more. It’s gone from seven or eight years ago [being] a real opportunity in purpose to be a huge force for good in the world, but I would say now it’s their lifeline."
Jones, who founded You & Mr Jones in 2015 after more than a decade at Havas (most recently as global chief executive), was bearish over the future of the ad industry’s incumbent holding companies, which he said were "in decline or at best flat" for the past three years. He claimed that new companies such as You & Mr Jones (described as a "brandtech" group) or Sir Martin Sorrell’s S4 Capital are not necessarily providing magic solutions to modern marketing needs, but rather traditional advertising companies are not able to change quickly enough.
"It’s become a declining industry and you can sit there and go ‘Hey, it should be easy to make that not the case’ and look at what we and S4 are doing… it’s just incredibly hard to change big traditional legacy businesses and if you look in history it’s never happened," Jones said.
"I don’t think they can [change]. You basically have a core business that makes your money doing something that if you set out to disrupt that you just accelerate the decline of your business dramatically. That said, I don’t think any of them [will] disappear overnight; they are still businesses that throw off a lot of cash and make sense as a private business, but as a publicly limited company they’re no longer growing, and that’s what the markets reward. So they’re just going to continue to decline."