Nonprofit Coalition Seeks Social Media Ad Pause

A wide and growing range of nonprofits have banded together under a coalition called Stop Hate for Profit with the goal of eliminating hate speech and damaging misinformation from online platforms. The coalition seeks to eliminate stereotypes, hate speech and harassment across all platforms but is maintaining a special focus on Facebook.

Facebook has been seen as especially resistant to making significant changes to its advertising and content-monitoring policies, according to Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) in New York City.

“After the death of George Floyd, we saw white nationalists organizing in public on the platform to disrupt rallies, coordinating how they were going to undermine the peaceful protests and start violent unrest in the streets,” Greenblatt said. “When Facebook didn’t take sufficiently swift action to shut that down, we thought it was time to act,” he added.

Stop Hate for Profit has enlisted help from hundreds of commercial businesses and nonprofit entities, ranging from small entities to giants such as Ben & Jerry’s, Best Buy, Ford, The Hershey Co., Levi’s, the National Wildlife Federation, Pfizer, Unilever and Verizon. All have agreed to suspend their advertising on Facebook for 30 days, although they are still encouraged to post organically, respond to customers, and use Facebook in ways that do not provide revenue to the Menlo Park, Calif.-based social media company.

Internally, at least, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg initially met the drop in revenue with a shrug. According to the leaked transcript of an internal meeting reported by several media outlets, Zuckerberg told employees “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.” He followed that comment by saying “We’re not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue.”

Facebook has confirmed the quotes are accurate.

Since Zuckerberg made his statements, the company has posted publicly about its content monitoring. On July 1, Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg wrote on Facebook’s blog: “Facebook does not profit from hate. Billions of people use Facebook and Instagram because they have good experiences — they don’t want to see hateful content, our advertisers don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to see it. There is no incentive for us to do anything but remove it.

“When we find hateful posts on Facebook and Instagram, we take a zero tolerance approach and remove them. When content falls short of being classified as hate speech — or of our other policies aimed at preventing harm or voter suppression — we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech.”

Of its efforts to remove hate speech, Clegg wrote:

“[W]e’re making real progress. A recent European Commission report found that Facebook assessed 95.7% of hate speech reports in less than 24 hours, faster than YouTube and Twitter. Last month, we reported that we find nearly 90% of the hate speech we remove before someone reports it — up from 24% little over two years ago. We took action against 9.6 million pieces of content in the first quarter of 2020 — up from 5.7 million in the previous quarter. And 99% of the ISIS and Al Qaeda content we remove is taken down before anyone reports it to us.

“We are getting better — but we’re not complacent. That’s why we recently announced new policies and products to make sure everyone can stay safe, stay informed, and ultimately use their voice where it matters most — voting. We understand that many of our critics are angry about the inflammatory rhetoric President Trump has posted on our platform and others, and want us to be more aggressive in removing his speech. As a former politician myself, I know that the only way to hold the powerful to account is ultimately through the ballot box.”

Clegg was deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom between 2010 and 2015, and Lead of the U.K.’s Liberal Democrats party between 2007 and 2015. 

That statement has done little to mollify leadership within Stop Hate for Profit’s participating coalition partners, which in addition to the ADL include Color of Change, Common Sense, Free Press, LULAC, Mozilla, NAACP, National Hispanic Media Center and Sleeping Giants, among others.

A list of Stop Hate for Profit’s recommendations is available here: https://bit.ly/2Z4HOeA

The one-month pause is not designed to destroy Facebook. As Greenblatt points out, Facebook generates $70 billion in annual revenue through more than 8 million advertisers that seek to put their messages in front of 2.6 billion users. Its market capitalization is around half a trillion dollars. it is, in Greenblatt’s words, “fairly staggering.”

Greenblatt is taking a wait-and-see approach to steps following the one-month advertising pause. His immediate goals include continuing to build awareness of the issues Facebook’s policies present, and attempting to have substantial conversations with its leadership that will lead to meaningful change.