Facebook censors Trump ad over 'Nazi-era' imagery just as it announces $200 million to support Black voices
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, announced a series of new programs on Thursday to highlight the Black community, and at the same time the social network took a dramatic step toward accommodating civil rights groups that have demanded more action against hate speech on the service by censoring an ad from President Trump.
On Thursday, Sandberg announced new racial justice initiatives, including giving $200 million to support Black businesses and Black creators. Facebook also plans to launch a media hub called "Lift Black Voices" inside its app. The commitment toward the Black community came just one day after Facebook heard from civil right groups, including the NAACP and Anti-Defamation League, which advocated for advertisers to join a boycott of the social network. Facebook has been criticized for how it handles offensive rhetoric, especially coming from Trump’s account.
Even Trump's Democratic rival Joe Biden has urged the social network to pull harmful posts. Then, on Thursday, Facebook removed an ad from Trump's campaign because it featured "Nazi-era" imagery. Trump's ad called on supporters to fight "Antifa," a loosely affiliated protest group with a name that stems from "anti-fascist."
The ad prominently displayed an upside-down red triangle, which people associate with political prisoners in Nazi concentration camps. “We removed these posts and ads for violating our policy against organized hate," a Facebook spokeswoman said by email on Thursday. "Our policy prohibits using a banned hate group's symbol to identify political prisoners without the context that condemns or discusses the symbol.”
The NY Daily News reported on the inflammatory ad and spoke with Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, who said: “It is not difficult for one to criticize their political opponent without using Nazi-era imagery. We implore the Trump campaign to take greater caution and familiarize themselves with the historical context before doing so. Ignorance is not an excuse for appropriating hateful symbols.”
Facebook has been struggling with how to respond to the dueling pressures of the president and his political rivals. On Wednesday, Facebook outlined its latest election ads policies, and planned to enforce its internal rules while still allowing for the greatest leeway possible for unfettered speech.
Facebook has been criticized for not taking the same measures Twitter and Snapchat have taken in recent weeks to limit the visibility of Trump's accounts. Last month, Trump posted, at the height of the protests over the George Floyd killing in Minneapolis, a message that suggested shooting protesters.
On Thursday, Facebook outlined all its new initiatives that could help mend fences with racial justice groups and disapproving advertisers.
"The past few weeks have compelled us to confront the reality of violence and injustice which members of the Black community face on a daily basis," Sandberg said in Facebook's announcement. "We have shared words of support for our friends, colleagues and communities. We need to take action as well."
Facebook said it would give $200 million to businesses and organizations serving the Black community. "Lift Black Voices" will be a new section within the Facebook app. The section is designed to "highlight stories from Black people, share educational resources, and inspire people to take action through fundraising for racial justice causes," Sandberg said.
By raising the presence of Black voices, Facebook could promote more meaningful dialog on its services. On Instagram, for instance, two weeks ago many users posted a black square to support "Blackout Tuesday" protests. The social media trend was meaningful for many people, but others criticized it for lacking substance.
Facebook says it will do more to promote Black creators on Instagram: "In Instagram search, we’re surfacing accounts to help people take action for racial justice," Sandberg said in Thursday's announcement.