Advertisers at more than 650 companies have boycotted Facebook Inc. for its reluctance to remove misinformation and hate speech from its platforms.
The boycott, known as the #StopHateforProfit campaign, was initiated on June 17 by multiple civil rights organizations including Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense.
The organizations accused Facebook of ignoring posts that encouraged voter suppression as well as failing to moderate hateful posts against protesters who were demanding justice for the murders of Black Americans such as Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Tony McDade.
In a statement, NAACP Chief Executive Officer Derrick Johnson said, “It is clear that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, are no longer simply negligent, but in fact, complacent in the spread of misinformation, despite the irreversible damage to our democracy. Such actions will upend the integrity of our elections as we head into 2020.”
He added, “While we recognize the value that Facebook provides in connecting people of color with one another, we call into question a platform that profits from the suppression of Black votes or Black voices.”
The groups also highlighted that advertising accounts for roughly 99% of Facebook’s US$70.7 billion in annual revenue.
Since then multiple high profile companies such as Adidas, Verizon Media, Coca-Cola and Pfizer have also joined the boycott.
On June 26, marketing giant Unilever also followed, announcing that it would boycott Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. The company also further stated, “We will pause all paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram in the US in support of the #StopHateForProfit campaign. Facebook, Inc. must take the clear and unequivocal actions to stop its platform from being used to spread and amplify racism and hate.”
In response to Unilever’s announcement, Facebook’s shares fell by over eight percent, eliminating US$56 billion from Facebook’s market value and decreasing the net worth of its founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg by US$7.2 billion.
After initially suggesting to advertisers that he wouldn’t change his policies regarding hate speech and stressing the importance of free speech, on June 26, the same day as Unilever’s boycott announcement, Zuckerberg yielded to pressure and announced policy changes.
He stated that Facebook had worked with civil rights auditors to address the feedback it had received. In one such policy change, Facebook will create a “Voting Information Center” that will provide “authoritative information” on voter registration and voting process.
Furthermore, prior to the November elections, Facebook will delete posts with false claims that encourage voter suppression of immigrants and other minorities, even if made by government officials.
Zuckerberg also stated that Facebook had invested heavily in Artificial Intelligence (AI) systems and human review teams “so that now we identify almost 90% of the hate speech we remove before anyone even reports it to us.”
Following Zuckerburg’s announcement, on June 30, after attending a Facebook meeting with other advertisers, Media Kitchen agency CEO Barry Lownethal said, “It really seemed like [Facebook] understood the magnitude of the problem, and that they genuinely want to fix it.”
However, some advertisers still remain unconvinced.
Unilever’s competitor Procter & Gamble, which contributed to US$90 million of Facebook’s advertising revenue according to a Pathmatics estimate said it will conduct “a comprehensive review of every media channel, network, platform and program on which we advertise.”
In one such reform, it wants Facebook to remove both “public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, anti-Semitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism.”
On June 27, NAACP president Derrick Johnson also criticized the changes saying, “Today, Facebook stated they would apply their hate policy to ads as if it was new ideation, while not addressing hate more broadly in groups and posts. Voter misinformation may be harder to spread the day of the election (but still will run rampant the rest of the time).”
“And posts that call for violence will still be allowed if they come from someone ‘newsworthy,’ but will now be labeled. None of this will be vetted or verified – or make a dent in the problem on the largest social media platform.”
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