Facebook faces growing pressure from advertisers to do more to counteract hate speech

As mass social justice protests push for change across America, the outdoor clothing retailer Patagonia is the latest company to pull its advertising from Facebook, joining the likes of The North Face and REI in an activist campaign forcing the social network to counteract hate speech on its platform.

“As companies across the country work hard to ensure that Americans have access to free and fair elections this fall, we can’t stand by and contribute resources to companies that contribute to the problem. We stand with #StopHateforProfit in saying Facebook’s ‘profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence,'” said Cory Bayers, head of marketing for Patagonia.

“We will pull all ads on Facebook and Instagram, effective immediately, through at least the end of July, pending meaningful action from the social media giant,” the company also tweeted.

Facebook took in $70 billion in ad revenue in 2019 from major advertisers and from small businesses. The company’s ad revenues are poised to grow just 4.9 percent in 2020, versus 26.1 percent in 2019, according to an eMarketer forecast released on Monday.

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which started last week, is spearheaded by a coalition of organizations including the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Common Sense and other civil rights groups who said Facebook is not doing enough to keep hate speech off its platforms.

Stop Hate believes Facebook allowed comments inciting violence against social justice protesters in the wake of George Floyd’s death at the hands of the Minneapolis police. The group is just part of a growing chorus to call out Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for failing to censor President Donald Trump when he warned protesters in Minneapolis, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The president’s comment was flagged by Twitter but left standing by Facebook.

The Stop Hate campaign has a list of demands for Facebook that include creating a separate moderation channel for people who say they’ve been a target because of their race or religion, and releasing data on the volume of hate speech on the platform and what action was taken. Most important, the coalition wants Facebook to stop generating ad revenue from misinformation and harmful content.

The activists have been targeting major advertisers, asking them to support the movement. Unilever, owner of the ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s, which is often outspoken about social causes, was also asked to join the campaign. A spokesman for the brand told NBC News: “We are aware of the current boycott and we’re taking the issue seriously. We may be ready to add more specifics.”

The North Face — owned by VF Corp., which also owns Vans and Timberland — carried a message from the NAACP in a tweet about its decision on Friday: “It is clear that Facebook and its CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, are no longer simply negligent, but in fact, complacent in the spread of misinformation, despite the irreversible damage to our democracy.”

Hayden Brown, CEO of the online freelancing platform Upwork, also joined the protest. “We cannot stand by and be complicit to or complacent about the spread of hate, racism and misinformation, and that is why we are supporting the Stop Hate for Profit advocacy campaign, which calls for pausing advertising on all Facebook platforms in the month of July. Upwork will pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram as a part of this campaign,” Brown said in a statement.

On Friday, REI announced on Twitter that it would join Stop Hate, writing: “For 82 years, we have put people over profits. We’re pulling all Facebook/Instagram advertising for the month of July.”

Modern Farmer magazine also said it is joining the campaign, tweeting on Monday, “While our marketing has relied primarily on Facebook and Instagram in the past, we will not buy any future advertising until policies are put in place to end racist, hateful content and misinformation on these platforms.”

Facebook has seen pressure from ad quarters before, most notably after the platform was used to live stream a mass murder in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019. New Zealand-based advertisers called on companies around the world to boycott Facebook.

The Stop Hate campaign is likely to gather steam because chief executives are involved — and they’re seeing pressure to walk the walk after making statements in support of Black civil rights, said one ad executive who wished to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak.

“This is something at the board level. Unlike in past Facebook kerfuffles, it isn’t just the chief marketing officers they’re getting pressure from,” the executive told NBC News.

Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president for global marketing, told NBC News in a statement :“We deeply respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information. Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.”

David Kirkpatrick, founder of the Techonomy conference, said, “There’s never been pressure on Facebook like there is right now.”

“And we’ve never seen an organized movement of advertisers driven by extremely respected external organizations like the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League,” he said. “That is new and that must be very worrisome to Facebook, because if you were to gauge their behavior overall, the thing they most care about is their image and their revenues.

“This is a genuine threat to at least that perception they have unlimited upward revenues.”

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