Civil rights leaders meet with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg but doubt his commitment to change
Civil rights groups walked away from a meeting with Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, committed to maintaining their advertising boycott against the company. On Tuesday, after the summit, the civil rights groups issued quick responses that criticized the social network's leadership and said that they heard little from the company that suggested it was serious about meeting their demands around hate speech and disinformation.
Facebook said it wanted the opportunity to talk with the groups to explain its commitment to fighting hate speech. But “what we received was the very same thing we entered into the meeting with—nothing," said Derrick Johnson, president of NAACP, following the meeting.
The NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change and Free Press held a videoconference call with media after meeting with Zuckerberg and the other Facebook executives. The civil rights groups organized a boycott of Facebook advertising for the month of July, and claim to have about 1,000 brands and entities on board.
Starbucks, Pfizer, Coca-Cola, PepsiCo, Ford Motor Co. and Verizon are among the hundreds of brands that committed to the ad freeze. Facebook has about 8 million advertisers, so the boycott is not expected to damage its quarterly revenue. The company made $70 billion in ad revenue in 2019. The boycott has damaged Facebook's reputation, however, with brands that are concerned about supporting content that could be construed as hateful and offensive.
“This meeting was an opportunity for us to hear from the campaign organizers and reaffirm our commitment to combating hate on our platform,” a Facebook spokesman told Ad Age by email. “They want Facebook to be free of hate speech and so do we. That’s why it’s so important that we work to get this right. We know we will be judged by our actions not by our words and are grateful to these groups and many others for their continued engagement.”
The civil rights groups have 10 demands for Facebook, which are outlined on their website StopHateForProfit.com, including calls for stricter policies against hate speech and disinformation. The groups want a clearer understanding of how Facebook defines hate speech and an audit of its record on removing such content.
Facebook has responded to some of the demands in recent weeks by issuing a more expansive definition of hateful speech in political ads. It also has acted against “Boogaloo” organizations, which are considered to be violent anti-U.S. government agitators. Last week, Facebook removed more than 500 accounts related to the Boogaloo ideology. (The name stems from an ironic reference to the 1980s B-movie “Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo,” and supporters use the sequel as a nod to stoking a replay of the U.S. Civil War.)
Facebook also says it will deliver a report on Wednesday showing its record on civil rights. Facebook has been working with the civil rights groups for years to address their many concerns, and its report on Wednesday is meant to show how it deals with issues around discrimination and hate groups. Facebook says it already catches 89 percent of all hate speech through artificial intelligence, before it reaches the public. Even with claims like that one, the civil rights organizations want more clarity into what Facebook defines as hate speech and more oversight over how it monitors such activity.
Facebook has promised that it would tap entities like Media Rating Council to certify its record on policing for offensive content.
The NAACP, ADL, Color of Change and the other groups organized the boycott in the aftermath of the protests over the killing of George Floyd. The groups were particularly outraged by a now-infamous post from President Donald Trump in May that declared, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Facebook allowed the president's post to stand unpunished, while Twitter slapped a warning on it. Facebook critics used the Trump post as an example of how Facebook fails to punish incendiary speech. Facebook executives have been reluctant to start censoring political content.
The civil rights leaders said they were disappointed in the meeting.
The meeting was “long on time but short on commitments,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League. “What we heard them say is that they are on a journey and they think they are doing better. There is no journey, if you will, on fighting hate.”