Fed up after years of dialogue, groups call for a halt to hate, incitement and misinformation now.
More than 1,000 businesses, large and small, are pausing advertising on Facebook during July in response to a call from a coalition of civil rights organizations headed by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), the NAACP, Color of Change, Sleeping Giants, Common Sense and Free Press.
The coalition asks Facebook to take immediate action to “find and remove public and private groups focused on white supremacy, militia, anti-Semitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation and climate denialism.”
It proposes 10 actions in three areas — accountability, decency and support — for Facebook to take in July. Included is establishing and empowering a permanent civil rights infrastructure headed by an experienced C-suite executive, as well as regular, independent audits of identity-based hate and misinformation with publicly accessible findings.
The ADL was a pioneer in exposing and challenging hate on the internet. In 1996, it issued its first report on the subject, “Web of Hate: Extremists Exploit the Internet,” and began to educate communities and the public about the threat. This was 10 years before Mark Zuckerberg and four other Harvard University students launched Facebook globally.
Today, Facebook is a vital communication platform for many, with more than 2.5 billion monthly users worldwide. The company hosts more than 8 million advertisers who spent $70 billion in 2019, accounting for almost 99% of Facebook’s income according to statista.com.
While hate groups still inhabit dark and isolated corners of the internet, they increasingly use mainstream outlets to recruit, organize and promote their agendas. But, it’s not just the hate groups. The bigot next door, the uninformed, foreign governments, and political leaders and movements find it a powerful tool to spread misinformation and promote division.
The coalition launched its campaign in mid-June with a full-page ad in the Los Angeles Times charging Facebook with allowing incitement “against protesters fighting for racial justice,” having “turned a blind eye to blatant voter suppression” and having “amplified white nationalists by including news sources with known extremist ties.” They also claimed Facebook is “actively choosing” not to protect and support Black users or call out Holocaust denial as hate, though it could easily do so.
The ad ended: “Let’s send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and violence. Please join us.”
On July 7, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and leaders of three other coalition organizers met on Zoom with Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg and members of their staff. It didn’t go well, with the coalition afterward calling to extend the boycott beyond July.
“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 coalition’s statement said. “Zuckerberg offered the same old defense of white supremacist, anti-Semitic, Islamophobic and other hateful groups … Instead of actually responding to the demands … Facebook wants us to accept the same old rhetoric, repackaged as a fresh response.”
At an online press conference, Greenblatt called the meeting “long on time, but short on commitments.”
“We went through the 10 [demands] and we didn’t get commitments or timeframes or clear outcomes,” Greenblatt said. “We expected specifics, and that’s not what we heard … The answer we heard was, ‘We’re on a journey, we’re doing better, we’re almost there.’ That’s not good enough.”
The coalition maintains that its demands would be simple to meet and pointed to years of ongoing discussions.
“All Mark needs to do, all Facebook needs to do, is once and for all say, ‘White supremacy, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Muslim hate, xenophobia — once and for all, it has to stop, and that it stops now,’” Greenblatt said.
Following the meeting, Facebook issued a statement saying the coalition wants them “to be free of hate speech and so do we,” and that they have spent billions of dollars to moderate online content and removed hundreds of hate groups from its site.
The day after the meeting, Facebook released a long-awaited civil rights audit of its policies and practices. While Zuckerberg has argued Facebook protects and promotes free speech and democracy, the audit highlighted the presence of extremists, white nationalists and hate groups on the social network — and algorithms that reinforced existing opinions encouraging polarization.
“Unfortunately, in our view, Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal,” the audit said.
Some of the largest and most well-known businesses pausing their advertising are Adidas, Best Buy, Boeing, Coca-Cola, Colgate-Palmolive, CVS, Hershey, Honda, Levi’s, Microsoft, Pfizer, Starbucks, Target, Unilever, Verizon, Volkswagen, Walgreens and White Castle.
Michigan-based Ford Motor Company and Beaumont Health have also joined the boycott.
In late June, Ford announced, “We are pausing all national social media advertising for the next 30 days to re-evaluate our presence on these platforms. The existence of content that includes hate speech, violence and racial injustice on social platforms needs to be eradicated.”
Besides businesses, nonprofit organizations have also joined. ADL Michigan Regional Director Carolyn Normandin says the Michigan Jewish Democratic Caucus and the Detroit Center for Civil Discourse, founded by Rabbi Asher Lopatin, executive director of the Federation’s Jewish Community Relations Council/AJC and the rabbi of Kehillat Etz Chayim in Oak Park and Huntington Woods, are among those groups.
While the boycott can hurt Facebook’s image and bottom line, smaller businesses, many with business models reliant on Facebook, provide the bulk of Facebook’s income. For example, its top 100 advertisers account for less than 10% of its annual earnings, according to the Wall Street Journal. Some media observers speculate that given the pandemic and the slower summer sales season, some companies paused advertising to save dollars and assess future advertising but will be back regardless of what Facebook chooses to do.
Greenblatt doesn’t buy it.
“I believe this campaign will continue to grow,” he said. “It will get more global; it will get more intense until we get the answers I think we are looking for.”
Learn more about the boycott at stophateforprofit.org.