The New York Times and CNN Rip Facebook, but Spend Millions on Facebook Ads

The paper of record has spent $24.5 million on Facebook ads this year, while at the same time skewering its moderation policies

The New York Times has been critical of Facebook for years, but that hasn’t stopped the paper of record from being one of Facebook’s biggest advertisers.

From the start of 2020 to late June, The New York Times Company spent $24.5 million on Facebook ads, according to an estimate shared by Pathmatics — wedging the paper firmly within Facebook’s top 20 advertisers for the year.

At the same time, several writers for The New York Times have skewered Facebook and its chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, on a number of issues, including the company’s content moderation policies.

Here’s a sample, just from the beginning of June: Kara Swisher ripped Facebook for its “egregious inability to deal with abusive users” like President Trump, unlike Twitter, which had started adding warning labels to some of the president’s tweets; Shira Ovide said the social network, in countries like the Philippines, has “contributed to a poisoned atmosphere in which even basic facts are in doubt”; and last week, Charlie Warzel, in a piece titled “Facebook Can’t Be Reformed,” said “Facebook sold us a utopian vision of a more connected world and left us with our current dystopia.”

Warzel’s piece came out as the #StopHateForProfit ad boycott, led by civil rights groups like the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, have called on businesses to stop advertising on Facebook, at least for the month of July, to protest the company’s inaction against “hate speech.”

Despite the harsh editorials, the Times still gets some utility out of Facebook, with the paper routinely advertising its app and subscription options on both Facebook and Instagram. There are no signs that’ll be curbed anytime soon, either. A Times representative did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment on whether it plans to curtail Facebook advertising.

And the Times isn’t the only news outlet that places ads on Facebook while also criticizing it.

Take CNN for a moment. Host Brian Stelter last year said he was “worried” about Facebook’s decision to not fact check its political ads. (Zuckerberg, responding to similar complaints, said: “in a democracy, I believe people should decide what is credible, not tech companies.”) CNN chief Jeff Zucker has also blasted Facebook’s “ludicrous” ad policies in the past. And more recently, CNN ran a story with the headline “These Are the Big Brands That Haven’t Pulled Ads From Facebook Yet” — a story that former CNN reporter Dylan Byers said felt “closer to activism than reporting.” CNN later changed the headline.

Still, CNN spent an estimated $2.6 million on Facebook ads between January and late June, according to Pathmatics. A rep for CNN disputed the estimate when reached by TheWrap, without sharing CNN’s internal estimate on Facebook ad spending. The rep also said CNN’s Facebook ad spend is usually tied to product development and commerce, rather than promoting shows and content. A review of Facebook’s ad library shows several CNN ads are currently featuring hosts like Anderson Cooper, however, while promoting the outlet’s morning newsletter.

Media giant Conde Nast has also spent nearly as much as the Times on Facebook ads this year — an estimated $19.5 million, per Pathmatics — all while some of its outlets have been ripping the social network. Wired last month, in a piece titled “Facebook Groups Are Destroying America,” worried groups are “pumping out vast amounts of false information to like-minded members,” leading to a spike in conspiracy theories and fake news on the platform. And in May, the same outlet called Facebook’s stance on free speech “absurd.” 

A Conde Nast rep also did not respond to TheWrap’s request for comment.

The key takeaway is this: while many of the country’s top media companies have ripped Facebook on a number of issues, they still depend on Facebook to drive traffic and subscription revenue. Similar to the ad boycott, where companies have stopped running ads but have not been compelled to delete their Facebook pages with millions of followers, these outlets have their own problems with Facebook — but they’re not problematic enough to drive them away from its ad platform.

Even TheWrap, to a lesser degree, fits this description. This website has been critical of Facebook, and most recently blasted Zuckerberg’s relationship with the president, but has also run about $1,700 worth of Facebook ads in the past two years, according to Facebook’s ad library.

Lindsey Ellefson contributed to this report. 

Sean Burch

Sean Burch

Tech reporter • • @seanb44 

The essential source
for entertainment insiders

Sign up for your