The protests for racial justice following the death of George Floyd, an African-American who died in the hands of the police in Minneapolis weeks ago, have weighed the business policies of Facebook on the scale of morality.
The social media giant has come under intense pressure from companies and individuals to rein in hateful content or risk being boycotted. Facebook came under severe criticism after it allowed Donald Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” response to the protests to stay on. The CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the statement, though it has racial connotation, did not violate Facebook policies, whereas on Twitter, Trump was flagged for posting the same message.
The incident has drawn wide condemnation, from Facebook staff to companies and individuals who buy ads from the social media platform, and thus puts a question mark on what matters more to Mr. Zuckerberg between morality and money.
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In the past week, more companies like Patagonia, The North Face, Ben & Jerry’s and REI have joined the Stop Hate campaign organized by civil rights groups, and some other companies are changing names with racist hints to reflect the new antiracial message.
Facebook has over the years, asserted for itself enormous influence on people around the world, using its over 2 billion population. But that has also made it a powerful weapon at the disposal of hate mongers, a situation civil rights groups have been trying to remedy before it gets out of hand.
The groups, the ADL, NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color of Change, Free Press and Common Sense, have held private meetings with Mr. Zuckerberg for years on how to improve the way the platform handles racist, bigoted, white supremacist and other contents of extremism.
While there was no deal, the group is using ‘ad boycott’ in the wake of racial justice rallies to force Facebook to change its stance on racist, bigoted and violent posts, thanks to the credence from George Floyd protests.
“I think the country is reckoning with this legacy of systemic racism in a way that it hadn’t before. You see this playing out in the public square and it seems to be playing out in political arena. That environment, I think, creates the conditions in which this advertising pause has so much appeal,” Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) told The Hill in an interview.
The groups launched a campaign last week calling on advertisers to boycott Facebook in July. They are demanding that Facebook create a threshold for ham, so that users facing threats and harassment can speak to an employee, and that it develops an internal mechanism for removing ads labeled as misinformation, and also a system for flagging content in private groups.
The campaign has drawn support from over 100 companies pledging to stop buying ads on Facebook and Instagram. Outwear companies Eddie Bauer and Arc’teryx and web browsing company, Mozilla, shipping company Local Postal, film distributor Magnolia Pictures and global freelancing platform Upwork, Unilever, Verizon, Lending Club, etc have all joined the campaign.
The CEO of Upwork Hayden Brown said they are joining the campaign because they can’t stand and watch the message of hate become a norm on social media.
“As the world largest on-demand remote talent platform, we are committed to building a safe and inclusive space for companies and professionals. We cannot stand by and be complicit to or complacent about the spread of hate, racism, and misinformation, and that is why we are supporting the Stop Hate for profit advocacy campaign,” he said.
More companies are joining the movement to force Facebook to yield to their demand. Facebook said earlier it would respect the decision of any company that joined the campaign and will continue to work with concerned advertisers in effort to rid the platform of hate speech.
Facebook has massive ad revenue that stood at $70 billion in 2019, and a one-month boycott will do little or no harm to its ad-based revenue that experts said would likely increase despite the scourge of coronavirus. However, the campaign is already forcing Facebook to mend the rules.
On Friday, Mr. Zuckerberg announced that Facebook is changing its policies to address hate speech. Under the new policies, the social media platform will ban ads that claim people from a specific race, ethnicity, nationality, caste, gender, sexual orientation or immigration are a threat to the physical safety or health of anybody else.
“I am committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues. But I also stand against hate or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that content too, no matter where it comes from,” he said.
Mr. Zuckerberg said henceforth, Facebook will protect immigrants, asylum seekers and refugees from ads that suggest that they are inferior to other nationalities or groups. And that will also apply to ads that express contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.
Facebook’s stock went down 6% on Friday. It is not clear if the #StopHateForProfit Movement is going to halt its plan to boycott ads in July, following the announcement of these new policies.