In the past 24 hours two major corporations announced they would no longer advertise on Facebook until the social media giant changes its approach to political statements and ads that appear on its site. Verizon joined an ongoing boycott yesterday. Today, European conglomerate Unilever joined as well, saying it won’t advertise on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for the rest of 2020.
Unilever, whose many household brands include Dove soap, Hellmann’s mayonnaise and Lipton tea, joins a growing list of companies that are boycotting Facebook for varying lengths of time, including Verizon Communications Inc., Patagonia Inc., VF Corp., North Face, Eddie Bauer and Recreational Equipment Inc.
“Based on the current polarization and the election that we are having in the U.S., there needs to be much more enforcement in the area of hate speech,” said Luis Di Como, Unilever’s executive vice president of global media, in an interview.
“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society,” the company said. Its Facebook ban also will cover Instagram.
About an hour after that announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a change in policy:
Under its new policies, Facebook will ban ads that claim people from a specific race, ethnicity, nationality, caste, gender, sexual orientation or immigration origin are a threat to the physical safety or health of anyone else, Zuckerberg said.
“I am committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues,” Zuckerberg said. “But I also stand against hate or anything that incites violences or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that content too, no matter where it comes from.”
Additionally, Zuckerberg said Facebook will do more to protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads that suggest they are inferior to other groups of people or from ads that express contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.
You can read Zuckerberg’s full statement here but his conclusion attempts to straddle a line between allowing for free speech online and taking a “stand against hate.”
Overall, the policies we’re implementing today are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they’re showing up across our community. I’m committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues, because I believe we can make more progress when we hear each other. But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that no matter where it comes from.
Facebook has been under intense pressure from progressives since last year. During a speech at Georgetown University last year he said, “I believe that when its not absolutely clear what to do, we should err on the side of greater expression.” That was considered insufficient by people like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who tried to create a gotcha moment during her questioning of Zuckerberg.
“Would I be able to run advertisements on Facebook targeting Republicans in primaries saying that they voted for the Green New Deal?” Ocasio-Cortez asked. She added, “I mean, if you’re not fact-checking political advertisements, I’m just trying to understand the bounds here, what’s fair game.”
“I think probably,” Zuckerberg replied. Asked if he saw a problem with that, he added, “Well, Congresswoman, I think lying is bad, and I think if you were to run an ad that had a lie in it, that would be bad. That’s different from it being … in our position, the right thing to do to prevent your constituents or people in an election from seeing that you had lied.”
Earlier this year, Zuckerberg once again defended free speech. During a keynote speech at a tech event in Utah he said, “In Georgetown last year I gave this speech around our principles around free expression. You know that’s just one of the areas that I really feel like is under attack right now. Increasingly we’re getting called to censor a lot of different kinds of content that makes me really uncomfortable. It kind of feels like the list of things that you’re not allowed to say socially keeps on growing. And I’m not really okay with that.”
That was before the coronavirus shutdowns and the George Floyd protests. Now the pressure on Zuckerberg and Facebook to change their stance has intensified. The current boycott is being organized by a coalition of left-wing groups:
In response to Facebook’s repeated failure to meaningfully address the vast proliferation of hate on its platforms, six organizations today announced a new campaign, #StopHateforProfit, that asks large Facebook advertisers to show they will not support a company that puts profit over safety. ADL (the Anti-Defamation League), the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Color Of Change, Free Press and Common Sense have created a coalition of the nation’s most storied civil rights organizations calling for some of the world’s largest corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July 2020.
The partisan nature of the boycott is clear from the press release which states:
Over the last few years, Facebook has:
Allowed incitement to violence against protestors fighting for racial justice in America in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks, and many others;
Made Breitbart News a “trusted news source” and made The Daily Caller a “fact checker” despite both publications having records of working with known white nationalists and neo-Nazis;
So it appears a pressure campaign against Facebook which has involved elected officials like AOC and Elizabeth Warren has finally succeeded in forcing some concessions from Mark Zuckerberg just in time for the election. And that’s what this is really about. Right-wing outlets have been given a platform on Facebook that the left wants to silence. They aren’t going to take the win and go home. On the contrary, this quick reaction from Zuckerberg is bound to encourage more pressure for more concessions around free speech.