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Companies Pull Ads From Facebook to Combat Racist, Homophobic Speech

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As a form of protest over Facebook’s handling of hate speech and misinformation, a slew of big budget advertisers — including Starbucks, Ford, Coca-Cola, Honda, and Verizon — are pulling their ads from the platform throughout the month of July.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign was organized earlier this month by several civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Free Press, and Color of Change.

It asks businesses to “stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality, and justice." However, it should be noted that not all businesses who’ve pulled their ad dollars have signed on to the campaign officially.

According to the campaign’s website, 99 percent of Facebook’s $70 billion revenue is made through advertising. Organizers justify the boycott by acknowledging that the social media platform incited violence against protestors in the wake of George Floyd’s death as well as “turned a blind eye” to voter suppression throughout the 2016 and 2018 elections. Not to mention, there is virtually no regulation when it comes to misinformation or identity-targeted hate speech.

“Could they protect and support Black users? Could they call out Holocaust denial as hate? Could they help get out the vote? They absolutely could. But they are actively choosing not to do so,” the organizers state.

On Monday, Facebook lost nearly $60 billion in stock market value in only 48 hours, according to the Daily Mail, though it saw a 1.2 percent rise later in the day.

Last week, the company’s founder Mark Zuckerberg appeared to cave into the pressure by announcing a handful of changes Facebook would be making to combat misinformation and identity-based hate.

Zuckerberg stated in a Facebook post that the company is “prohibiting a wider category of hateful content in ads. Specifically, 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. 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.”

Furthermore, the company claims they will put “warning labels” on posts from political candidates or officeholders who are known to convey inappropriate behavior.

“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,” he wrote, “but we'll add a prompt to tell people that the content they're sharing may violate our policies.”

Still, while Facebook says they’re going to apply these policies to ads, the changes will hardly do much to combat hate speech within groups or posts, where it is a “far more significant and systemic issues,” the Stop Hate For Profit campaign points out.

“Facebook says it is prepared to work with the Global Alliance for Responsible Media (GARM) and the Media Ratings Council to identify appropriate brand safety audit requirements, but the company has provided no details whatsoever to understand what that actually entails,” the campaign stated. “Sadly, none of these initial steps will make a significant dent in the persistent hate and racism so prevalent on the largest social media platform on the planet. That’s why we need to keep up the pressure.”

While Facebook’s adjustments, however small they may be, cannot erase the past, it’s evident that corporations are trying to at least send a message by placing advertising dollars directly in the hands of those who need it most.

AT&T, for example, is working with Pod Digital Media to find sponsorship placements for its Cricket Wireless network to help Black-owned podcasts. 

“AT&T wants to support Black voices by identifying a mix of podcasts that not only align to their audience but also have the scope for them to make long-term media commitments,” Gary Coichy, CEO of Pod Digital Media, told Digiday.

Digiday notes that other advertisers are figuring out how to move away from classic demographics so they can target people based on their behavior, personal interests, and life stage. Many point out, however, that some segmentation practices “incentivize segregation” among audiences and society. 

One thing is clear: digital censorship has directly impacted LGBTQ+ media companies that cater to marginalized communities — including people of color, religious minorities, LGBTQ+ people, and HIV-impacted communities. In fact, digital censorship has inadvertently redirected necessary revenue away from these communities.

Companies aiming to protect their brands from appearing in the wrong environments online have utilized brand safety technology that flags hundreds of keywords to ensure their brands appear on websites that reflect their values. 

While its intention was pure, an unfortunate consequence was that words like “bisexual,” “transgender,” “lesbian,” “queer,” and “gay” were all flagged as pornographic by this type of technology, despite the context in which it was used. As a result, advertising dollars have been diverted away — invisibly — from LGBTQ+ media companies and our allies that serve queer communities.

Some companies like Mindshare, a global media agency network, have responded by developing a LGBTQ+ private marketplace (a.k.a. PMP) that will aggregate publishers into one negotiated inclusion list so that brands support LGBTQ-specific publications as well as queer content at broader outlets. 

Next month will undoubtedly welcome several debates across platforms, but a larger question looms: Will these companies still carry the courage of their convictions after July?

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