Facebook and Hate Speech: What is Happening, and Our Take on It

As of Wednesday, over 500 companies have joined the advocacy group “Stop Hate for Profit” in an advertising boycott against Facebook. The boycott addresses Facebook’s weak stance against hate speech and the spread of misinformation on its platform. The boycott takes aim at the $70 billion in revenue that Facebook generates from its ads annually. For years, critics have tried to evoke change regarding Facebook’s negligent handling of the hateful content and misinformation that is frequently spread on the site.

The boycott comes after weeks of civil unrest and city-wide protests concerning police violence and racial injustice. The participating companies hope that by joining together and creating financial implications for Facebook, the company will finally implement the fundamental changes that are needed and monitor and decrease the destructive content that is prevalent on its site.

On Sunday, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communication, Nick Clegg, told CNN, “we have absolutely no incentive to tolerate hate speech. We don’t like it, and our users don’t like it. Advertisers understandably don’t like it.” A few days later, Facebook reported that it had removed hundreds of accounts connected to the “bugaloo movement,” a far-right extremist movement that has been gaining an intimidating amount of traction in the last few months. Many companies feel that creating financial implications against the social media giant are the only way that they can stop the spread of these extremist hate groups.

By listening to their customers, many companies are finally using their power to advocate for justice and equality. Over the weekend, Starbucks reported that it would cease all advertising on all social media. This was a huge blow to social media companies considering that Starbucks reportedly spent over $95 million on advertising of Facebook alone. Unilever and other large companies such as Target, Dunkin, Coca-Cola, Ford, Clorox, and Adidas have also vowed to halt advertising to the social media giant. Many of them stating that they anticipate on pausing advertisements for at least a month. On Tuesday, Volkswagen Group of America released a statement saying, “Hate and dangerous online misinformation should not go unchecked … We expect our advertising partners to reflect our values, and Volkswagen – as well as other companies – must hold them to the same standards we demand of ourselves.”

Facebook’s stock prices continue to fall as more companies join the boycott. Facebook’s current policy on hate speech states, “We do not allow hate speech on Facebook because it creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases promote real-world violence.” However, Facebook have been known to loosely enforce this policy and not hold itself accountable for its indiscretions. Multiple activist groups, including the ADL and NAACP also allege that Facebook has also failed to address voter suppression. They have joined the boycott movement in an effort to stop the spread of propaganda on the platform. As of this week, Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with organizers of the boycott to address their proposals to change Facebook’s policies regarding hate speech.

This is an important issue, and our firm has its view.  Here it is: whether we like it or not, social media platforms and the choices they make have outsized impacts on the way our democracy works.  Regardless of the legal obligations that social media companies like Facebook have or don’t have, it is in the best interest of all Americans that we incentivize these companies to act in a socially responsible way.  For that reason, although our firm does occasionally boost posts on Facebook for broader visibility, we are going to take a hiatus on doing that in hopes of helping to drive this message home to Facebook.

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