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June 29, 2020

Misinformation and hate speech: Social media under fire; billions cut in ads

Top Story

June 29, 2020

NEW YORK: Facebook is facing a growing boycott by advertisers unhappy with its handling of misinformation and hate speech, including its laissez-faire attitude toward recent posts from President Trump, foreign media reported.

The effort gained traction earlier in June amid pressure from civil rights organisations like the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the Anti-Defamation League. Color of Change, one of the groups backing the boycott, said that nearly 100 advertisers have joined.

Many of the participants are small businesses, which make up the bulk of Facebook’s eight million advertisers. But recently, several large companies who spend millions of dollars a year on the platform have also distanced themselves.

Facebook spends billions of dollars a year to keep its platforms safe and works with outside experts to review and update its policies, the company said in a statement on Friday. But it added that “we know we have more work to do.”

Here is a list of some of the major advertisers who are limiting or stopping their advertising on Facebook, with estimates of what they spent last year in the United States from the advertising analytics platform Pathmatics.

Unilever spends more than Rs71 billion ($42.4 million) in advertising. The consumer goods giant, one of the biggest advertisers in the world, has said that it would stop running ads on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter in the United States for at least the rest of 2020, citing a “polarised election period.” The company, which owns brands such as Dove and Lipton, said that “continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.” Ben & Jerry’s, an ice cream brand owned by the company, said on Tuesday that it wasjoining the boycott.

Honda America spends about one billion rupees ($6 million) in advertisements on Facebook and Instagram. The automaker, which includes the Honda and Acura brands, has said that it would withhold ads in July, “choosing to stand with people united against hate and racism.”

Birchbox, a beauty subscription service, which spends Rs158 million ($947,100), has that it would move advertising spending in July from Facebook and Instagram to other platforms and individual content creators, after steadily reducing its reliance on the social media giant over the past two years. Birchbox said it would continue to be active on its Instagram account.

Coca-Cola spends 3.7 billion ($22.1 million) on advertising on social media sites. The beverage giant has said that it would stop all paid ads on all social media platforms globally for at least 30 days. James Quincey, the chief executive, said in a statement that the company would use the time to reassess its advertising standards and policies and would let its social media partners that “we expect greater accountability, action and transparency from them.” A Coca-Cola spokeswoman said that the company was not joining the official Facebook boycott.

Levi Strauss & Company spends Rs469 million ($2.8 million). Jen Sey, the chief marketing officer of the clothing company, wrote a blog post criticising Facebook’s “failure to stop the spread of misinformation and hate speech on its platform” and saying that “this inaction fuels racism and violence and also has the potential to threaten our democracy and the integrity of our elections.” Ms Sey wrote that Levi Strauss would suspend advertising at least through the end of July, adding that “when we re-engage will depend on Facebook’s response.”

Lululemon, a fitness apparel retailer, which spends Rs268 million ($1.6 million) on ads, voiced solidarity on Twitter with the boycott campaign and said that it was “actively engaging with Facebook to seek meaningful change.” A Lululemon spokeswoman said that the company would suspend paid ads on Facebook and Instagram.

Verizon, telecommunications company, spends Rs3.85 billion ($22.9 million) on social media ads. Its chief media officer John Nitti said in a statement that it was “pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners.” Verizon is stopping both paid ads and unpaid posts.

Eddie Bauer, retailer, spends Rs234 million ($1.4 million). The said that it was suspending paid ads on Facebook and Instagram through July.

Patagonia, outdoor products company, which pays out more than one billion rupees ($6.2 million) on social media ads, said said on Sunday that it would immediately remove ads globally from Facebook and Instagram at least until the end of July, “pending meaningful action from the social media giant.” The retailer will continue posting unpaid content on Facebook, which it said is its second-largest paid advertising platform.

REI, retailer, which disburses Rs3.76 billion ($22.5 million) for placing ads on social media sites, said that it was pulling all advertising from Facebook and Instagram in July.

The North Face, American outdoor recreation product company, that spends Rs552 million ($3.3 million) said that it will stop posting content and buying ads on Facebook through July, but will continue to put free posts on Instagram. The company spends more on Facebook than it does on any other platform besides Google. Meanwhile, Facebook has announced changes to its policies around hate speech and voter suppression, but the measures have done little to quell the wave of companies pulling advertising from the platform amid backlash over how the company handles hate speech online.

The CEO, Mark Zuckerberg a day earlier announced tweaks to a number of policies, hours after the multinational Unilever said it would pull its advertisements from the platform for the next six months.

Zuckerberg’s announcements, however, did not halt companies’ demands for change. Coca-Cola, Honda, the chocolate brand Hershey, and the apparel companies Lululemon and Jansport have joined the more than 100 brands boycotting advertising on Facebook.

Facebook makes about 98% of its $70 billion (Rs11,728 billion) in annual revenue from advertising, and Unilever’s announcement sent Facebook stocks tumbling 7%.

Unilever’s joining of the boycott put significant pressure on Facebook, said Nicole Perrin, the principal analyst at the market research firm eMarketer. As one of the largest advertisers in the world, its moves could influence other brand advertisers to follow its lead, she said. It also pulled spending for longer than other companies and on more platforms, including Instagram and Twitter.

“That suggests a deeper problem with user-generated content platforms, as divisiveness is to be expected on any such platform that allows political expression,” she said.

The changes announced Friday are the most significant Facebook has made after months of actions from employees and legislators, yet critics argue they are still too incremental.

Facebook said it would take an approach similar to that of Twitter, labeling posts that may violate its policies but are allowed to remain on the platform because they are deemed newsworthy.

Zuckerberg said in the video that posts that “may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote” will be removed regardless of who posts them or whether they may be considered newsworthy.

The pressure on Facebook to moderate hate speech has accelerated in recent weeks as the platform refused to flag false and incendiary statements from Donald Trump, despite moves from rival platform Twitter to do so. In response, workers staged a walkout and called on the company to do more to address hate speech and incitement to violence.

How much the new policies will change the landscape of Facebook remains to be seen, said representatives of Change the Terms, a coalition of over 55 civil rights groups committed to fighting online hate.

Zuckerberg also said the company will not be changing its policies that allow lying in paid political advertisements. Rashad Robinson of the Color of Change said the CEO’s statement “was 11 minutes of wasted opportunity to commit to change”.

“Zuckerberg’s new changes don’t go nearly far enough,” Robinson said on Twitter. “Labeling ‘newsworthy’ content so the public can judge for themselves is not a new policy. It’s more of the same, and it won’t cut it.”