Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg details new tools that fight hate, but NAACP says it's not enough to end boycott
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg posted a message on Friday outlining plans to tackle disinformation and label harmful content—the kind that has gone unchecked in the past, like posts from President Donald Trump. However, the policy update was immediately slapped down by organizers of an advertising freeze against the company. They said the social network did not meet their demands, which means a brand boycott is still in the works for July.
In his post, Zuckerberg reaffirmed many of the positions the company has taken in the past that suggest it will continue to err on the side of allowing the widest possible expression of views on the service.
The social network has been under intense pressure from activists and civil rights groups that have mounted a boycott campaign because of concerns over the spread of disinformation and hate speech. Zuckerberg addressed some of the problems, but the NAACP, which is helping organize the pressure campaign, said he did not go far enough, in a statement sent to Ad Age.
"Facebook is supporting hate, not 'free speech'" Derrick Johnson, NAACP president, said in the statement. "I am incredibly concerned with Zuckerberg's response today. Facebook's inactions are costing us lives."
The "Stop the Hate for Profit" movement has attracted support from brands like Honda, Unilever, Verizon and The North Face. Verizon declined comment on Zuckerberg's announcement, while several other brands that have paused their spend in July did not immediately provide comment.
“We haven’t had a chance to look at what Facebook announced,” American Honda said in an email statement provided to Ad Age. “We had previously shared our concerns with Facebook directly, and until we have an opportunity to review their announcement, we won’t be in position to comment.”
Zuckerberg said that these were policies that the company has been considering even before the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and others began their movement.
"Three weeks ago, I committed to reviewing our policies ahead of the 2020 elections," Zuckerberg wrote. "That work is ongoing, but today I want to share some new policies to connect people with authoritative information about voting, crack down on voter suppression, and fight hate speech."
Zuckerberg discussed how Facebook could label certain posts that violate its policies but still deserve to be seen when they come from public officials. He also reiterated how Facebook is developing an election hub that supplies accurate information about the polls.
Facebook also will enforce stricter hate speech rules, purging a wider swath of content that is considered harmful, but reserved this policy for ads. Zuckerberg said it would not ban the same material if it were just an unpaid post, in the interest of free expression. “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 NAACP's Johnson criticized the ads update. "[Zuckerberg] stated that Facebook would apply their hate policy to ads as if it was some new revelation, while not addressing hate more broadly in groups and posts," Johnson said. "Voter misinformation may be a bit harder to spread the day of the election but still will run rampant the rest of the time. And posts that call for violence will still be allowed if they come from someone 'newsworthy' but they will now be labeled. None of this will be vetted or verified—or make a dent in the problem on the largest social media platform."
Facebook was not immediately available to respond to comments regarding Johnson's rebuttal.
On Friday, the ADL posted a message on Twitter also saying that Facebook did not go far enough. Patagonia, another brand involved in the boycott, concurred, saying Facebook "must do more to stop promoting hate and dangerous information."
Facebook has been squeezed by dueling pressures, coming from Trump and activists, both pushing their differing agendas. The recent tension started last month, when Trump posted messages to Facebook and Twitter questioning the validity of mail-in ballots. Twitter removed the message saying it violated its election integrity policies, but Facebook found it did not violate its policies.
Then another message from Trump at the height of the George Floyd protests suggested using violence to quell demonstrations. Trump tweeted and posted to Facebook, "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Twitter put a warning on the tweet, while Facebook again had no penalty.
Zuckerberg’s detractors claimed Facebook was too cozy with the White House, while rival Twitter appeared to draw a more forceful approach to cleaning up the platform for the 2020 election.
Now, Facebook says it has a new policy that could give it similar powers to Twitter to mark Trump posts and other messages that go outside the lines.
"Often, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest, and in the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says, we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms," Zuckerberg wrote. "We will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case. 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."
This is a stance that Facebook has tried to explain in the past—that politicians are sharing messages that the public should see, and that the best course of action would be to fight offensive speech with smarter speech. Carolyn Everson, Facebook's VP of global business group, sent an email to advertisers just this week talking about Facebook's view on the Trump messages.
"I fully recognize there are some people that remain incredibly disappointed that we did not take the Trump post about looting/shooting down," Everson wrote in the email obtained by Ad Age. "However, the best way to counter offensive (but not rule breaking) political speech is to scrutinize and challenge it. That is exactly what has happened. And please know we have taken action before that specific Trump post and on others since. If it violates our policy, we take it down."
Trump has been vexed by social platforms in recent weeks. A Wall Street Journal report said his campaign was looking for new ways to get his message out on new digital platforms, like one called Parler. Republican lawmakers have been promoting the fringe messaging service.
Trump has even signed an executive order targeting internet sites for moderating his content.
Facebook will be able to stamp its warning label on any posts it finds violates policies. The new Facebook policy, however, does not have the same mechanism that Twitter has that prevents those messages from being retweeted or commented upon.
"Overall, the policies we're implementing today are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they're showing up across our community," Zuckerberg wrote. "I'm committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues, because I believe we can make more progress when we hear each other. But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we're committed to removing that no matter where it comes from."
Adrianne Pasquarelli, George P. Slefo, Jack Neff and E.J. Schultz contributed to this report.