CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook—the social media company you may recognize from United Nations accusations of complicity in genocide and its role in recklessly flooding the web with conspiracy theories and extremism—predictably failed to placate a coalition of civil rights groups leading an ad boycott at a meeting on Tuesday, the groups said. As such, the boycott will go on.
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Groups leading the #StopHateForProfit campaign include the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Free Press, the NAACP, and Sleeping Giants, and they’ve managed to sign on over 900 advertisers. Those companies are participating to varying degrees that don’t always involve total divestment, and the boycott has yet to significantly impact Facebook’s bottom line. But it has also become a major embarrassment for Facebook, highlighting its continual shell game of promising to fight hate speech and then taking half-hearted or ineffective action.
Throughout the first half of the year, Facebook seemed increasingly poised to ally itself with the definition of “free speech” favored by right-wingers. In the most visible examples, Zuckerberg and crew twisted and baked themselves into lumpy brain pretzels to justify not removing posts by Donald Trump spreading baseless lies about voter fraud and threatening violence against protesters. The CEO even went on Fox News to proclaim Facebook wouldn’t be the “arbiter of truth.”
Then, last month, Zuckerberg abruptly flipped his public messaging on the matter in response to the boycott, staff walkouts, and mounting political pressure. But talk is cheap and Facebook is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. In private, Zuckerberg assured staff advertisers would return “soon enough,” called the situation more of a “reputational and a partner issue,” and claimed Facebook wouldn’t bow to pressure from outside parties. On Tuesday morning, Sandberg posted a lengthy letter claiming that Facebook would do more to stand “firmly against hate,” but simultaneously laid the groundwork for the company to bail on any of the recommendations in a soon-to-be released “independent civil rights audit” (commissioned, for the record, by Facebook). At the meeting later in the day, Zuckerberg and Sandberg failed to meet any of the boycott campaign’s demands, civil rights groups present said.
In a statement to Gizmodo via email, the Stop Hate for Profit campaign wrote the “only recommendation [Facebook] even attempted to address is hiring a civil rights position,” but that the company refused to commit to making it a c-suite level role. There was “no attempt” by Facebook to address any of the other recommendations, according to the campaign. Those included no longer actively recommending users join hate and extremist groups via algorithm, proactively taking down those groups, establishing a civil rights infrastructure, third-party independent auditing of its anti-hate and misinformation efforts, and refunding advertisers whose ads run alongside content that violates Facebook’s terms of service.
“Zuckerberg offered no automatic recourse for advertisers whose content runs alongside hateful content,” Stop Hate for Profit wrote. “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.”
“He declined to adopt common sense content moderation policies and practices like the ones put forward by the Change the Terms coalition, or develop a process to ensure that their terms of service are fairly applied and do not bend to political expediency,” the group added. “And he did not offer any tangible plans on how Facebook will address the rampant disinformation and violent conspiracies on its platform.”
Instead, the campaign said that Zuckerberg offered only the “same old defense of white supremacist, antisemitic, islamophobic and other hateful groups on Facebook” and the “same old rhetoric, repackaged as a fresh response... None of this is hard, especially for one of the world’s most innovative companies whose founder coined the term move fast and break things. Mark Zuckerberg, you aren’t breaking things, you are breaking people.”
“For over 2 years, NAACP has entered into dialogue,” NAACP president Derrick Johnson told CNN. “We’ve watched the conversation blossom into nothingness.”
“This isn’t the first time our organizations have asked Facebook to clean up its act,” Jessica González, co-CEO of Free Press, wrote to Gizmodo in a separate statement via email. “We’ve seen over and over again how it will do anything to duck accountability by firing up its powerful PR machine and trying to spin the news. We stand with truth and justice, and have been through this enough times to know when Facebook is trying to play us.”
“... This isn’t over,” González added. “We will continue to expand the boycott until Facebook takes our demands seriously.”
In a call after the meeting, the New York Times reported, Color of Change head Rashad Robinson said “They showed up to the meeting expecting an A for attendance. Attending alone is not enough.”
As for the release of Facebook’s commissioned civil rights audit, Robinson said on the call, it’s “only as good as what Facebook ends up doing with the content... [or else] it’s like going to the doctor, getting a new set of recommendations about your diet and then not doing anything about it and wondering why you’re not getting any healthier.”
In a statement to CNBC, a Facebook spokesperson said they “want Facebook to be free of hate speech and so do we. That’s why it’s so important that we work to get this right. We know we will be judged by our actions not by our words and are grateful to these groups and many others for their continued engagement.”