Facebook ad boycott won’t formally extend, though some companies press on

Companies including The North Face and Heineken have said they will resume advertising on the platform in August, while others plan to continue to keep ads off the social media network after July 31. That includes beverage giant Coca-Cola, which had paused advertising across social media on July 1 to assess internal policies. On Aug. 1, Coca-Cola plans to return to advertise on LinkedIn and Google-owned YouTube while maintaining a freeze on Facebook, Facebook-owned Instagram and Twitter globally, the company said in a statement.

Ben & Jerry’s, the ice cream company, is also extending its commitment and will not place ads on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the rest of 2020, except for spots related to activism campaigns or election efforts it supports, company spokesperson Laura Peterson said.

Some coalition leaders said they never intended to get companies to commit to continuing past July, and so the fact that some are doing so is a sign it has exceeded expectations.

“The ad pause — all it was was a month-long pause,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. He said many companies have told him they are continuing with the pause, but he declined to reveal names or numbers.

Other organizers said a sustained boycott would be too much to ask because Facebook’s Goliath presence makes it difficult for companies to abandon it.

“It is clear from the testimony yesterday that Facebook has a virtual monopoly over information and therefore, much of the advertising market,” Sleeping Giants, one of the organizing groups, wrote on Twitter Thursday. “Because of this, some advertisers will inevitably return because they have virtually no other major outlets.”

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign touted July as a success early on Thursday in a lengthy unsigned statement, which didn’t clearly note whether the boycott was continuing into August, but indicated an interest in keeping the pressure up on its unmet demands.

“This movement will not go away until Facebook makes the reasonable changes that society wants,” the Stop Hate for Profit coalition said in a statement. “The ad pause in July was not a full campaign — it was a warning shot across Facebook’s bow. This movement only will get bigger and broader until Facebook takes the common-sense steps necessary to mitigate the damage it causes.”

CEO Mark Zuckerberg “has not yet approached the type of meaningful action that we want to see,” the campaign added, saying “we expect more constituencies will emerge in the coming weeks as this movement gains even more momentum.”

The pressure surrounding the social media giant intensified Wednesday when Zuckerberg testified alongside the heads of Apple, Amazon and Google before the House antitrust subcommittee, where lawmakers zeroed in on the ad boycott.

“You seem not to be that moved by their campaign,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) told Zuckerberg.

“We’re very focused on fighting against election interference, and we’re also very focused on fighting against hate speech,” the Facebook CEO replied, saying the site uses artificial intelligence to help root out toxic content. “And our commitments to those issues and fighting them go back years before this recent movement.”

Facebook is able to identify and take down 89 percent of the hate speech before the content is seen, according to the top executive. “I want to do better than 89 percent; I’d like to get that to 99 percent,” Zuckerberg added.

He said he has met with some concerned individuals and shares many of the goals. His company on Thursday offered an update about how it’s tackling some issues of hate speech. “We remove three million pieces of hate speech each month, or more than 4,000 per hour,” a blog post update said. “In the last few years we have tripled — to more than 35,000 — the number of people working on safety and security.”

“Some also seem to wrongly assume our business is dependent on a few large advertisers,” Zuckerberg said during Thursday evening’s earnings call. “While we value every single one of the businesses that use our platforms, the biggest part of our business is serving small businesses.”

At Wednesday’s hearing, Zuckerberg pushed back against the idea that any boycott could sway content policies.

“Mr. Zuckerberg, are you so big that you don’t care how you’re impacted by a major boycott of 1,100 advertisers?” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) asked the CEO.

“Of course we care,” Zuckerberg countered. “But we’re also not going to set our content policies because of advertisers — I think that would be the wrong thing to do.”

Greenblatt, of the Anti-Defamation League, argued that despite the unmet demands, the July boycott had forced concessions from Facebook.

“The reality is, they have made changes because of this boycott,” said the Anti-Defamation League’s Greenblatt. He said those included creating a senior (though not C-suite) position focused on civil rights issues, the establishment of a team to study bias in algorithms, the release of the company’s multi-year civil rights audit and actions taken against the antigovernment Boogaloo movement.

“Only when there was Stop Hate for Profit did they actually do something,” Greenblatt said.

Laura Kayali contributed to this report.

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