The Facebook advertising boycott organizers have Mark Zuckerberg’s attention.

Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt, NAACP chief executive Derrick Johnson and Color of Change President Rashad Robinson expect to meet with Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as early as today, according to the ADL.

More than 530 companies — including top brands such as Ford, Unilever, Pfizer and many small businesses — have committed to pause advertising on the social network at least during the month of July as part of their #StopHateForProfit campaign, the organizers say.

The organizers have10 demands they’re planning to stress during the meeting with Facebook. They include convincing the company to hire a top executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate products and policies for discrimination, bias, and hate —and for Facebook to submit to independent audits of misinformation and hate speech on its platform. They also want Facebook to refund corporations when their advertisements appear next to hate speech and to remove groups focused on white supremacy, anti-Semitism or vaccine misinformation.

Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., on Oct. 23, 2019. Bloomberg photo by Andrew Harrer

The organizers say such demands should be easy to implement for a company of Facebook’s size and power. “They built a business that reaches 2.6 billion users across culture, across language, across geography,” Greenblatt said. “That’s difficult. That is a feat. Kicking white nationalists off the platform? That’s easy.”

The broad coalition of corporations raises the stakes in the civil rights’ leaders years-long push to change Facebook.

It’s hardly the first time civil rights leaders have a seat at the table with two of the world’s most powerful tech executives — but they say many of those conversations did not result in enough changes. Now they’re encouraged by the backing of some of the world’s most recognizable corporations as they seek to force Facebook to remove content that could suppress voting or otherwise could harm marginalized groups.

“We had to make sure that they weren’t just hearing from us, but that they were hearing from folks who every single day engaged in their platform as big-time customers,” Robinson told me. “If Mark Zuckerberg has said the demands of the civil rights leadership haven’t been important, does he say the same thing to corporations? And will corporations accept a person who feels he’s so powerful that he feels he doesn’t have to make any changes?”

The widespread protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd have put renewed pressure on corporations throughout the country to evaluate how their businesses and products perpetuate racism.

“There’s a moment in time here, a kind of urgency and energy that this issue has needed that we’re finally now able to bring to bear,” Greenblatt told me.

So far the campaign has far exceeded the organizers’ expectations.

It launched in mid-June without any corporations signed on. The number of companies participating has snowballed in just the past two weeks following The North Face’s announcement last month that it would be the first company to participate.

Still, as CNN has noted, many of the top advertisers on Facebook such as Walmart and American Express have not pulled their advertising. And hundreds of companies is only a fraction of the more than 7 million advertisers Facebook reported last year it has on its platform.

Greenblatt said the organizers never expected to make a dent in Facebook’s profits. “The idea was to make a point about their practices,” Greenblatt said. “And in that we have succeeded.”

There are signs that the pressure could be working.

Facebook announced last week that it would start labeling some posts from politicians that violate its community rules, after long giving elected world leaders an exemption from many of them because the company considers their content “newsworthy.”

But civil rights leaders don’t think the company is going far enough, and they’re calling Facebook to stop giving politicians an exemption from any of the rules.

In addition, Zuckerberg announced the company would remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into Election Day, in response to concerns about misinformation that could suppress voting spreading on the platform. But the boycott leaders think Facebook should be more aggressive about taking down disinformation related to voting every day of the year.

Facebook requested next week’s meeting with the civil rights leaders as the troubles pile up. “Last week, we reached out to the NAACP, ADL and Color of Change and offered a meeting with our COO and [Chief Product Officer Chris Cox] because they’ve made product-specific requests,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. “They asked about having Mark at the meeting, and we’ve since confirmed that Mark is able to join. We’re waiting to hear back and look forward to the opportunity to continue the dialogue.”

Advertising boycotts in the past have been successful at forcing change at tech companies. Starbucks, Pepsi, Walmart and other major companies pulled advertising from YouTube in 2017 after the Wall Street Journal reported Google’s systems placed ads from major brands on videos peddling racist and anti-Semitic content. The company promised to do more to police such content on its service. And it made changes to its ad policies, including requiring that video channels on its site have more than 10,000 total views before placing ads on their videos.

Facebook is on the defensive.

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, argued in an op-ed yesterday that Facebook has an incentive to root out hate on its platform because many of its users and advertisers don’t want to see it. However with so many messages and posts circulating on Facebook each day, looking for this harmful content is “like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he wrote.

“We may never be able to prevent hate from appearing on Facebook entirely, but we are getting better at stopping it all the time,” he wrote.

Facebook has been increasingly investing in content moderation since the fallout of the voter interference on its platform during the 2016 election. The company says some of its initiatives already address the demands that the civil rights leaders have laid out. For instance, it says its safety professionals and artificial intelligence systems review private groups for hate speech, and it already does issue companies refunds when ads run in videos or in instant articles that are determined to violate its policies.

But the civil rights leaders say the company’s response is just “a tired retread of the same talking points Facebook has been using for months.”

“We aren’t buying it, and neither are advertisers,” Greenblatt said. “The fact is, Facebook still has a serious problem with hate and harassment on their platform and is not taking it seriously enough. We look forward to addressing these issues in our meeting with Facebook executives.”


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