Facebook to label 'newsworthy' posts that violate rules as ad boycotts grow

Facebook's stock fell more than 8% after Unilever's ad boycott announcement.

June 26, 2020, 4:48 PM

International conglomerate Unilever announced Friday it was yanking ads from Facebook, joining a growing number of companies that are boycotting the social media site at the urging of the NAACP and other civil rights advocacy groups.

The NAACP, Colors of Change and the Anti-Defamation League launched the #StopHateforProfit campaign calling on companies to boycott ads in July, and slamming the social media giant for "allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform."

"Given our Responsibility Framework and the polarized atmosphere in the U.S., we have decided that starting now through at least the end of the year, we will not run brand advertising in social media newsfeed platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the U.S.," Unilever said in a statement.

"Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society. We will be monitoring ongoing and will revisit our current position if necessary," the statement added.

The announcement from Unilever, which sells products under some 1,000 brand names worldwide, comes a day after telecom giant Verizon also announced it was pausing Facebook advertisements. The companies join a growing number of organizations including Patagonia, The North Face, REI and others.

Facebook's stock fell more than 8% Friday after Unilever's announcement.

PHOTO: A sign with the Facebook "like" symbol is posted outside of Facebook headquarters on April 5, 2018, in Menlo Park, Calif.
A sign with the Facebook "like" symbol is posted outside of Facebook headquarters on April 5, 2018, in Menlo Park, Calif.
Justin Sullivan/Getty Images, FILE

As the ad boycott mounted, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg took to Facebook Live Friday to announce some updates in the company's efforts to "connect people with authoritative information about voting, crack down on voter suppression and fight hate speech."

Zuckerberg said the changes "come directly from feedback from the civil rights community and reflect months of work with our civil rights auditors."

One of the updates Zuckerberg outlined in a subsequent Facebook post was creating a "higher standard" for hateful content in ads.

"Specifically, we're expanding our ads policy to prohibit claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others," Zuckerberg wrote. "We're also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them."

The social media giant also announced that it will soon "start labeling some of the content" the platform does not remove because it is deemed newsworthy, such as speeches from politicians.

"We'll allow people to share this content to condemn it, just like we do with other problematic content, because this is an important part of how we discuss what's acceptable in our society -- but we'll add a prompt to tell people that the content they're sharing may violate our policies," Zuckerberg said.

Content that incites violence or suppresses voting will still be removed, according to Zuckerberg. He added that there are "no exceptions for politicians in any of the policies I'm announcing here today."

This is a major update from Facebook, and follows in the footsteps of fellow social media platform Twitter. Twitter has garnered headlines in recent weeks for adding fact-checking labels to tweets from President Donald Trump.

Finally, Zuckerberg said the company was upping its efforts to fight voter suppression on the platform and provide "authoritative information" on voting during the pandemic.

Why are companies boycotting Facebook ads?

Last week, a coalition of advocacy groups lead by the NAACP, Colors of Change and the ADL launched the #StopHateforProfit campaign, calling on corporations to pause advertising on Facebook in July.

The campaign comes as the nation has been rocked by protests over the killing of George Floyd, and corporate America has faced immense pressure to reaffirm commitment to racial justice initiatives through actions not just words.

PHOTO: An April 9, 2020, file photo shows a closed Patagonia clothing store in Freeport, Maine.
An April 9, 2020, file photo shows a closed Patagonia clothing store in Freeport, Maine.
Robert F. Bukaty/AP, FILE

"The campaign is a response to Facebook’s long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform," the groups said in a joint statement. "The campaign will organize corporate and public pressure to demand Facebook stop generating ad revenue from hateful content, provide more support to people who are targets of racism and hate, and to increase safety for private groups on the platform, among other measures."

The organizations accused Facebook of allowing posts inciting violence against protesters fighting for racial justice, silencing Black users on the platform and failing to protect them from online threats, as well as allowing the platform to be used as part of "widespread voter suppression efforts, using targeted disinformation aimed at Black voters."

"Facebook remains unwilling to take significant steps to remove political propaganda from its platform," Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, said in a statement.

"It is clear that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, are no longer simply negligent, but in fact, complacent in the spread of misinformation, despite the irreversible damage to our democracy," Johnson added. "Such actions will upend the integrity of our elections as we head into 2020. We will not stand for this. While we recognize the value that Facebook provides in connecting people of color with one another, we call into question a platform that profits from the suppression of Black votes or Black voices."

Earlier this week, Facebook responded to the campaign saying it remains focused on the work of removing hate speech and providing voting information.

"We respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information," Carolyn Everson, the VP of global business group at Facebook, told ABC News in a statement on Wednesday.

"Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good," she added.

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