Civil rights groups behind ad boycott slam Facebook leaders after meeting

Civil rights groups behind ad boycott slam Facebook leaders after meeting
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The coalition of civil rights groups calling for an advertising boycott of Facebook on Tuesday condemned the company's leadership following a meeting that was meant to address its content moderation policies and efforts to police hateful speech. 

Leaders of the NAACP, Color Of Change, Free Press and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) said in a statement that a meeting conducted on Zoom with CEO Mark ZuckerbergMark Elliot ZuckerbergHillicon Valley: Trump order targets TikTok, WeChat | TikTok fires back | Chinese firms hit hard in aftermath Female lawmakers pressure Facebook to crack down on disinformation targeting women leaders Hillicon Valley: Facebook removes Trump post | TikTok gets competitor | Lawmakers raise grid safety concerns MORE and other members of Facebook's leadership left them unconvinced that the platform is committed to tackling issues surrounding "vitriolic hate."

The representatives said that Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Product Officer Christopher Cox failed to commit to addressing the majority of their recommendations on how to handle misinformation and hate speech on the platform. 

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"Zuckerberg offered the same old defense of white supremacist, anti-Semitic, islamophobic and other hateful groups on Facebook that the Stop Hate For Profit Coalitions, advertisers and society at large have heard too many times before," they said. 

The meeting on Tuesday came as Facebook faces escalating pressure to ramp up its content moderation efforts surrounding incendiary posts, including those shared by President TrumpDonald John TrumpDeWine tests negative for coronavirus a second time Several GOP lawmakers express concern over Trump executive orders Beirut aftermath poses test for US aid to frustrating ally MORE. In the weeks ahead of the meeting, a campaign calling for an ad boycott of the company had gained commitments from hundreds of businesses, including Verizon, Starbucks and Coca-Cola. 

A majority of the companies have pledged to keep their advertisements off Facebook and Instagram, the photo-sharing app owned by the company, at least through this month. 

The campaign, dubbed "Stop Hate for Profit," was launched in June in response to what the collection of civil rights groups said was Facebook's “long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform." Ahead of the meeting, the campaign shared a list of 10 recommendations they wanted Facebook to commit to, including the establishment of a civil rights infrastructure that includes a C-suite level executive who evaluates products and policies for discrimination, bias, and hate. 

Representatives of the campaign said that Zuckerberg and others addressed the hiring of a civil rights position, but would not commit to it being at the executive level. They also said that the execs did not attempt to address the other recommendations, such as the submission of regular third-party audits on hate and misinformation on the platform. 

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"They showed up to the meeting expecting an A for attendance — attending alone is not enough," Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson said on a press call with reporters. "At this point we were expecting some very clear, sort of answers to the recommendations we put on the table, and we did not get them."

Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO and national director of ADL, added that “we saw a little and heard just about nothing.”

“We expected in the call today that we would have some clarity, that we would have some details, that we would have results. Unfortunately, we got no details, no clarity and no results,” Greenblatt said.

A Facebook spokesperson told The Hill that the meeting was an opportunity for the company to “reaffirm our commitment to combating hate on the platform,” saying it has “invested billions in people and technology” to address the problem. 

“We have banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations and are holding ourselves accountable by producing regular reports about our content moderation efforts,” the spokesperson said. “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.” 

Sandberg said in a Facebook post earlier Tuesday that the company would release a civil rights audit on Wednesday that assessed its policies and practices. She also noted that she and Zuckerberg were also meeting with representatives at the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, NAACP Legal Defense Fund and their civil rights auditor, Laura W. Murphy, following their meeting with leaders of the "Stop Hate For Profit" campaign. 

Facebook has faced scrutiny over its policies on misinformation and abusive content for years now, but criticism of the company intensified in wake of the May 25 death of George Floyd and the tech giant's decision to leave up an inflammatory post from Trump that appeared to threaten violence against protesters. Critics have also zeroed in on false posts shared by the president about mail-in voting.

Hundreds of employees at the company, who were already working from home due to the coronavirus outbreak, reportedly staged a "virtual" walkout to protest what they felt was inaction. Some staffers have also publicly denounced Facebook's content moderation decisions. 

While Zuckerberg has stood by Facebook's policies, he announced in late June that the company would start to label but leave up posts deemed “newsworthy” that violate company rules, marking a major reversal from his previous stances. 

In the same announcement, Zuckerberg said that the company would expand its advertising policy to bar ads that direct disgust or intimidation towards asylum-seekers, migrants or refugees. It will also include additional restrictions surrounding voter suppression tactics on the platform. 

It remains unclear how advertisers will respond to the latest meeting. Zuckergerg has reportedly downplayed the advertising boycott's possible effects on the company, which generated roughly $70 billion in ad revenue in 2019.

“We’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue,” Zuckerberg said last week, according to The Information.  

—Updated at 5:55 p.m.