- The Washington Times - Monday, June 29, 2020

An anti-Facebook advertising boycott is gaining momentum and has already contributed to a shift by the social media giant toward more restrictive guidelines for posts about elections and voting.

A coalition led by the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP has enlisted key advertisers, including Verizon, Ford, Starbucks and the Hershey Co. in the “Stop Hate for Profit” boycott of Facebook, whose stock tumbled 8% Friday before recovering 2% Monday.

The coalition, which launched the campaign June 17, set a one-month target for Facebook to start bowing to vague demands for more accountability for the content and ads on its platform. The boycotters say they want Facebook to prioritize decency and provide human support to users.

The boycott is the latest front in a growing clash over Big Tech’s role in policing political speech, with the left pushing for more restrictions on content and the right accusing internet giants of anti-conservative bias.

Several companies that decided to pause advertising on Facebook platforms also have reeled in ad spending on Twitter.

Protesters have taken their complaints directly to the billionaires running the tech giants. According to reports, protesters arrived with a guillotine in recent days outside the D.C. residence of Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.

Content cited by boycott supporters as inappropriate includes posts blaming liberal billionaire George Soros for civil unrest and a post depicting Rep. Ilhan Omar, Minnesota Democrat, on an Aunt Jemima syrup bottle with the label “Aunt Jihadi,” according to the Anti-Defamation League.

The coalition says Facebook collects $70 billion in advertising revenue annually and going after the bottom line is the best way to drive change.

“What would you do with $70 billion? We know what Facebook did,” the coalition writes on its website. “They allowed incitement to violence against protesters fighting for racial justice in America in the wake of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery, Rayshard Brooks and so many others.”

The campaign website lists more than 90 businesses that reportedly cut social media spending amid concerns about hate speech and racial injustice — though not all of the companies listed say they are part of a boycott.

Coca-Cola said it did not join the campaign’s boycott despite being listed on the website. Coca-Cola said it is pausing social media advertising across a host of platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Snapchat and Twitch.

“There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media,” Coca-Cola CEO James Quincey said in a statement to The Washington Times. “The Coca-Cola Company will pause paid advertising on all social media platforms globally for at least 30 days. We will take this time to reassess our advertising policies to determine whether revisions are needed. We also expect greater accountability and transparency from our social media partners.”

But candy maker Hershey gave a full-throated endorsement of the boycott, telling Facebook that the company was unhappy with Facebook’s stance on hate speech and vowing to cut Facebook advertising spending by a third for the rest of the year.

“We do not believe that Facebook is effectively managing violent and divisive speech on their platform,” Hershey said in a statement. “Despite repeated assertions by Facebook to take action, we have not seen meaningful change.”

Some boycotters, such as the outdoor apparel company Patagonia, have signed on for a long-term break with Facebook. Patagonia said it would last at least through July and maybe longer.

Others favored a more limited approach. Honda told The Washington Times it was suspending spending on Facebook for July to “stand with people united against hate and racism,” but it did not point to how the advertising shift would accomplish that goal.

Some business analysts said companies may have wanted to pare back social media advertising expenditures before the boycott for other reasons, including economic damage wrought by the coronavirus and were using the campaign as a way to earn goodwill.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg attempted to stop the financial bleeding Friday with an announcement of new policies that will alter the nature of content about elections and voting on company platforms.

On Monday, Facebook told The Times its investments in artificial intelligence mean 90% of hate speech on Facebook is caught before users report it and the company is working with civil rights groups and unnamed experts to develop tools, technologies and policies to stamp out hate speech on its sites.

“We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies,” a Facebook representative said. “We’ve opened ourselves up to a civil rights audit, and we have banned 250 white supremacist organizations from Facebook and Instagram.”

Facebook did not say whether it has communicated with the coalition organizing the boycott, but some business and technology experts think Facebook’s decision-making is less responsive to the boycott and more responsive to 2020 politics.

Kara Swisher, co-founder of the tech news website Recode, told CNBC she thought Mr. Zuckerberg was motivated to act now in anticipation of a November election win by presumptive Democratic presidential nominee Joseph R. Biden.

“Facebook plays the long game. At some point, they’ll cozy up to whatever administration is there and they’ll do what it takes,” Ms. Swisher told CNBC. “But I’ll tell you a lot of this [regulatory] legislation is coming down the pike, especially if certain people get in, if the administration changes, if you have something like Attorney General Kamala Harris or Attorney General Elizabeth Warren or vice president of either of those people, you’re going to see some real change happening at these companies and some real regulation and action that has a lot of muscle behind it.”

Meanwhile, Reddit is cracking down on what it considers hate speech and is expected to remove forums used by President Trump’s supporters and far-left liberals.

The subreddit forums r/The_Donald, which is popular with Mr. Trump’s fans, and r/ChapoTrapHouse, which is a favorite of liberal Reddit users, are slated for removal alongside about 2,000 other communities, according to The Verge tech website.

• Ryan Lovelace can be reached at rlovelace@washingtontimes.com.

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