Stop hate for profit: A campaign against Facebook

Tom Bryson tells us more about the new Facebook boycott campaign.

Throughout July 2020, over 1,000 companies took unprecedented action against Facebook’s policies on hate by withdrawing paid advertising from the platform.

Campaigners and advertisers have long called for social media companies to take greater responsibility for their role in allowing harmful misinformation and hateful ideologies to spread.

Criticisms have intensified in recent times, in part due to the social media activities of Donald Trump, whose repeated fallacious and inflammatory posts have been allowed to influence millions of followers.

In May this year, Trump was widely condemned for inciting violence with his posts on social media in response to the protests that followed the death of George Floyd, in particular his statement “when the looting starts the shooting starts”.

While Twitter acted to hide the comment for “glorifying violence” and violating its policies, Facebook allowed the post to remain unchecked.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg stated “I disagree strongly with how the President spoke about this, but I believe people should be able to see this for themselves ...”

This was despite Zuckerberg having testified before congress in October that any content calling for violence “including [by] a politician” would be taken down.

Trump’s words served to highlight some of the entrenched problems with Facebook’s approach to moderating harmful content, which go far beyond the president’s posts.

The problem with Facebook

Facebook uses algorithms to recommend pages and groups to individual users, and groups peddling hate and extremism are frequently promoted in this way:

Facebook’s own study found that 64% of the users in extremist groups in Germany joined due to the platform’s recommendations, while a separate investigation by UK-based counter-extremist organisation Institute for Strategic Dialogue (ISD), found that Facebook’s algorithm “actively promotes” Holocaust denial content.

Indeed, Facebook may well have a financial incentive to allow hate speech; as inflammatory content can generate engagement, leading users to spend more time on the platform and therefore be exposed to more advertising.

The propagation of hate speech on the platform has had devastating real-world consequences.

A United Nations report says the use of Facebook played a “determining role” in Myanmar’s military spreading hateful propaganda against the Rohingya. A genocidal campaign there has seen tens of thousands die and hundreds of thousands displaced.

The platform also seems to encourage harassment. A 2020 survey of American social media users carried out by Anti-Defamation League found that 42 percent of daily Facebook
users experienced harassment on the platform.

It also recorded an alarming increase in religion-based and race- based harassment across all social media platforms between 2019 and 2020.

Stop Hate for Profit boycott campaign

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign was launched on June 17th 2020, in the wake of the George Floyd protests, by a coalition of US civil rights and non-profit organisations including Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Common Sense, Free Press, League of United Latin American Citizens, Mozilla, National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, National Hispanic Media Center, and Sleeping Giants.

In July 2020, the campaign asked businesses to withhold all paid advertising from Facebook and the other platforms it owns (including Instagram and WhatsApp) for one month, demanding Facebook implement ten key policy changes (see opposite) that would amount to “real progress” in dealing with hate speech and misinformation.

By withdrawing advertising, the campaign was able to impact Facebook’s primary source of revenue. In 2019, 98.5% of Facebook’s 70 billion dollar revenue was generated through advertising.

Central to the campaign was the notion that “hate on Facebook is not good for advertisers”. Many of the advertisers expressed their concerns about their adverts appearing alongside divisive content and how that could affect their image.

Stop Hate for Profit plans to take more action in the coming months, and organisers see the campaign growing in Europe and in other places. Some advertisers have decided they want to continue pausing spending past July until Facebook takes more aggressive action against hate speech.

Stop Hate for Profit's 10 Demands of Facebook

    Is progress being made?
1 Hire a ‘C-Suite’ or boardroom level executive specialising in civil rights to evaluate products and policies for the potential for discrimination, bias, and hate.
 
Sort of
2

Submit to regular, third party, independent audits focused on hate and misinformation and publish the results of these audits publicly.

Sort of
3

Agree to refund advertisers whose ads were shown next to content that was later removed for violations of terms of service.

Sort of
4

Actively seek out and remove groups focused on ‘white supremacy, militia, antisemitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust denialism, vaccine misinformation, and climate denialism.’

No
5

Adopt ‘common-sense changes’ to policies to help prevent radicalisation and hate.

No
6

Stop recommending groups and content associated with hate, misinformation or conspiracies.

No
7

Create a mechanism to automatically flag hateful content in private groups for human review.

Sort of
8

Stop allowing exemptions to politicians from the terms of service and remove misinformation related to voting.

No
9

Employ expert teams to review submissions of identity-based hate and harassment.

No
10

Allow individuals facing hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee for support.

No

Impact of the boycott

Over one thousand businesses responded to the campaign and paused their advertising on Facebook, including some of the worlds’ best-known multinationals and brands such as Unilever, Adidas, Ford and Volkswagen, drawing widespread attention to Facebook's role in spreading hate and costing the platform millions of dollars in revenue.

Facebook made several public statements in response to the campaign and conceded to some of the demands, such as creating a senior role to oversee civil rights (demand 1), although this was not at the ‘C-Suite’ level recommended, establishing a dedicated team to study algorithmic racial bias and taking action against certain hate groups such as the right-wing extremist Boogaloo movement (demand 4).

Despite these concessions, the campaign maintained that Facebook had “not yet approached the type of meaningful action that we want to see”.

At the end of the July boycott, the campaign published a review of Facebook’s progress against its 10 demands graded on a traffic light system.

Four demands were given ‘yellow status’, meaning “Facebook has attempted to address this issue, and has fallen short”, while six were ‘red status’: “Facebook has yet to meaningfully address this issue”.

As you can see in the table above, in no areas was Facebook committed to ‘instituting sufficient measures’ to be awarded the green status.

While the July boycott has come to an end, the movement appears far from over, with some companies such as Ben & Jerry’s, Coca-Cola, HP and Mars extending their advertising pause beyond July.

The campaign has also led to further scrutiny of Facebook’s policies from legislators and governing bodies.

Stop Hate for Profit itself appears to be committed to further action until Facebook meets all its 10 demands, stating “the ad pause in July was not a full campaign – it was a warning shot across Facebook’s bow”.

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