By Geoff Percival
Shares in British pub group JD Wetherspoon rose up to 1.5%, backing up outspoken chairman Tim Martin’s claim that the decision to quit all of its social media accounts would not negatively affect the group’s business.
Wetherspoon closed all its social media accounts yesterday, saying it was taking a stand against an industry accused of misusing personal data and allowing bullying to run rife.
Despite a global furore over the harvesting of personal information from Facebook accounts, few companies have cut themselves off from an industry that many view as vital to reaching customers.
Wetherspoon, whose chairman and founder is also a vocal champion of the UK leaving the European Union, said it was closing Twitter, Facebook and Instagram accounts for its head office and almost 900 pubs in the UK and Ireland.
Here, the company owns four pubs in Dublin and one in Cork but is sitting on land in Carlow and Waterford. It has three big projects in varying degrees of development, in the centre of Dublin and Belfast.
“It’s becoming increasingly obvious that people spend too much time on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook, and struggle to control the compulsion,” Mr Martin said.
“I don’t believe that closing these accounts will affect our business whatsoever, and this is the overwhelming view of our pub managers,” he said.
Social media platforms have come under mounting criticism following news that millions of users’ personal information was gathered from Facebook by Cambridge Analytica, the political consultancy that has counted US president Donald Trump’s election campaign among its clients.
The industry has also come under fire for not doing enough to curb hate speech or take down malicious content. Last year, Wetherspoon was forced to issue a denial after a spoof Twitter account falsely claimed the company was not allowing UK staff to wear remembrance day poppies at work.
Last month, Wetherspoon reported a 6.1% rise in like-for-like sales for the six months to the end of January.
However, it only offered a cautious forecast for the second half of its financial year based on rising labour costs and dwindling consumer demand, ironically largely due to Brexit.
UK pubs and restaurants have been hit by higher import costs as the pound has weakened following the 2016 Brexit vote, and rising inflation along with stagnant wages means many consumers have cut back on non-essential spending.
Additional reporting Reuters