Activists behind Facebook ad boycott rip Zuckerberg after meeting

Activist organizations behind a widespread ad boycott of Facebook told Digital Trends they don’t believe CEO Mark Zuckerberg is committing to confronting hateful content after meeting with him and other Facebook executives on Tuesday — with one calling it a “PR exercise.”

Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg, and CPO Christopher Cox met with organizers from the NAACP, Color Of Change, Anti-Defamation League, Stop Hate for Profit, and Free Press to discuss Facebook’s failure to curtail the spread of hate and disinformation across its platform. In a statement from Stop Hate for Profit, the organization said that Zuckerberg “offered the same old defense.”

“It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team is not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform,” the statement reads. “Zuckerberg offered no automatic recourse for advertisers whose content runs alongside hateful content. He had no answer for why Facebook recommends hateful groups to users. He refused to agree to provide an option for victims of hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook representative.”

Met with Mark Zuckerberg and @Facebook leadership today. It was a disappointment. They have had our demands for years and yet it is abundantly clear that they are not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform.

— Rashad Robinson (@rashadrobinson) July 7, 2020

Sandberg and Zuckerberg’s response — an acknowledgement of Facebook’s responsibility to combat hate speech — was widely condemned by organizers and supporters of the boycott, including Richard Wilson, director of Stop Funding Hate.

“The #StopHateForProfit campaign is winning support across the world because this issue is global: Facebook helped incite a genocide in Myanmar – and we’ve recently heard growing concerns about deadly hatred being fueled in India via Facebook’s products,” Wilson told Digital Trends. “Until the company takes robust steps to prevent their platform being used to foment violence, many will share the skepticism expressed by the organizers of today’s meeting.”

The activist leaders gave Facebook a set of demands, according to a press release. These demands include hiring a C-Suite level executive with civil-rights expertise, submitting to regular and transparent third-party audits, and changing the company’s “community standards” to sync with the policy recommendations made by the Change the Terms initiative, which Free Press co-founded.

“I’m deeply disappointed that Facebook still refuses to hold itself accountable to its users, its advertisers, and society at large. I was hoping to see deep humility and reflection about the outsized role that Facebook plays in shaping beliefs, opinions, and behavior, and the many harms it’s caused and facilitated in real life. Instead, we saw more dialogue and no action,” Jessica J. González, Free Press Co-CEO, said in a statement. “Facebook approached our meeting today like it was nothing more than a PR exercise.”

The meeting follows a one-month Facebook ad boycott which was started last week and has been backed by major brands including Coca-Cola, Unilever, Verizon, Starbucks, and Target. The boycott calls for brands to pull their ads from the platform in July over objections to the social media giant’s policies over hate speech, targeted harassment, and misinformation.

Michelle Amazeen, Associate Professor of Mass Communication at Boston University, said that Facebook would most likely not make meaningful changes because the boycott itself is temporary. Most companies have only committed to boycotting the social media giant for July, meaning the ad dollars will start flowing again when the month is up.

“Facebook is not going to change its policies until it’s in its self-interest to do so, and clearly that point has not arrived,” Amazeen told Digital Trends. “They do not feel threatened by the boycott. I’m afraid that until US federal policymakers decide to hold social media platforms accountable for racist, sexist, and hate-mongering content, there is no incentive for Facebook to change.”

González said that Free Press and other organizations would continue to take part in and expand the advertising boycott until Facebook takes their demands seriously.

Digital Trends reached out to Facebook to comment on the meeting. We will update this story when we hear back.

Sandberg said earlier on Tuesday in a Facebook post that the company acknowledges its responsibility to combat hate speech. She added that Facebook plans to release the final report of its independent civil rights audit on Wednesday after a more than two-year review of its policies and practices.

With reporting from Maya Shwayder.

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