As ad boycott grows, Facebook says it won’t change policy due to revenue pressure

26 Jun 2020

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Verizon has now joined the growing advertising boycott against Facebook, but the social network reportedly won’t ‘make policy changes tied to revenue pressure’.

Telecoms giant Verizon has become the biggest company to join the #StopHateforProfit campaign that’s calling for companies to boycott putting ads on Facebook until the social network takes a greater stand against racist content on its platforms.

It follows Ben & Jerry’s decision earlier this week to pause all paid advertising on Facebook and Instagram in the US, saying that the platforms in their current forms are being used to “foment and fan the flames of racism and violence”.

In a statement yesterday (25 June), Verizon’s chief media officer, John Nitti, said: “We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners.”

Now, according to emails seen by The Wall Street Journal, Facebook is trying to convince advertisers and agencies not to pause spending, saying it is taking the problem of racism on its platforms seriously. However, the emails added that any changes made to Facebook will be the result of its principles, not external pressure.

“We do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure,” said an email attributed to Carolyn Everson, the vice-president of Facebook’s global business group. “We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.”

Facebook improvement ‘not that hard’

Meanwhile, leaked audio recordings obtained by the Financial Times of Facebook’s head of trust and safety policy, Neil Potts, revealed the executive acknowledging the company has a “trust deficit”.

The audio was from a call convened by the Canadian Advertising Bureau, with one member asking Potts why advertisers should risk harming their reputation by collaborating with Facebook.

“There is a trust deficit. You try to make a decision and people disagree and maybe that builds that deficit even deeper,” Potts said.

Facebook has not responded to comments about these internal communications.

One of the organisers of the #StopHateforProfit campaign, the Anti-Defamation League, published an open letter yesterday to companies advertising on Facebook.

“While erring on the side of caution can be helpful on speech-related matters, consistently exhibiting a lack of understanding around language that has been used historically to demean marginalised groups is inexcusable,” the letter said.

“Luckily, given where Facebook is now, improvement is not that hard. Clamp down on common misinformation and conspiracies. Stop recommending hate.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic