September 28, 2023

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Facebook ad boycott organizers say meeting with executives was ‘disappointing’


Facebook is facing more pressure from advertisers to combat hate speech and misinformation. 

Graphic by Pixabay/Illustration by CNET

Civil rights activists behind a growing advertisement boycott of Facebook said Tuesday that they aren’t convinced that the world’s social network is doing enough to combat hate speech after meeting with executives.

A coalition of civil rights organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Free Press and Color of Change called on businesses last month to “hit pause on hate” and not advertise on Facebook in July. Activists met with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday morning.

“#StopHateForProfit didn’t hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action. Instead of committing to a timeline to root out hate and disinformation on Facebook, the company’s leaders delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands,” Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. González said in a statement.

Facebook said it has rules again hate speech on its platform but is trying to do more to combat hateful content and misinformation. Despite Facebook’s vow, civil rights activists say they haven’t seen enough meaningful change especially in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd. Conspiracy theories and misinformation about Floyd, a 46-year-old Black man in Minneapolis, spread on social networks, including false claims that Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros orchestrated the protests.

Campaign organizers have a list of 10 steps it wants Facebook to take. Some of the recommendations include allowing people facing severe hate or harassment to talk to a Facebook employee, hiring a C-suite-level executive with a civil rights background and notifying businesses if their ads are shown next to content Facebook pulled down that violated its rules.

ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said during a press conference that Facebook didn’t provide specific commitments, time frames or clear outcomes. 

“Today we saw little and heard just about nothing,” he said.

Rashad Robinson, executive director of Color Of Change, said that Facebook executives showed up to the meeting expecting “an A for attendance” but that wasn’t enough. The groups expected clear answers to their recommendations.

More than 970 businesses and organizations have joined the campaign, according to a list compiled by advocacy group Sleeping Giants, one of the campaign’s organizers. Participants include a variety of businesses including outdoor clothing brand The North Face, consumer goods giant Unilever and telecom leader Verizon. 

Facebook has more than 8 million active advertisers and raked in $70 billion in revenue last year so it’s unlikely the boycott will make a big dent in the company’s finances. Still, marketing experts said that the boycott could harm Facebook’s image, which is already tarnished by a series of privacy scandals and controversial content moderation decisions.

The company has come under fire including from its own employees for not removing a protest-related post by President Donald Trump that advocacy groups and other critics said could incite violence. Facebook left the post up because it determined that Trump’s remarks “when the looting start, the shooting starts” didn’t violate its rules. Facebook’s rival Twitter obscured Trump’s tweets with a notice for glorifying violence but users could still view the president’s remarks if they clicked on the label. 

The campaign also puts Facebook in a tricky spot because the company doesn’t want to make it seem like they’re making changes in response to pressure from advertisers. Zuckerberg told employees that he expects advertisers will return to the social network “soon enough” and that the company won’t change its “policies or approach on anything” because of a threat to any percentage of its revenue. Sandberg said Tuesday that any changes the company makes aren’t “for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Facebook is expected to release a finalized independent civil rights audit, which is a two-year review of its policies and practices, on Wednesday.

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