Unilever, Coca Cola join Facebook ad boycotts over hate speech concern

Agence France-Presse .  The Hague/Washington/San Francisco | Published: 22:56, Jun 27,2020


Unilever and Coca Cola joined a growing list of global brands halting advertisements on social media giants like Facebook over their perceived failure to crack down on hate speech and incitements to violence.

Facebook on Friday said that it would ban a ‘wider category of hateful content’ in ads as the embattled social media giant moved to respond to the growing boycotts.

Consumer giant Unilever, home to brands including Ben and Jerry’s and Marmite, on Friday said that it would stop advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the US until the end of 2020 due to the ‘polarised election period’ there.

‘We have taken the decision to stop advertising on @Facebook , @Instagram & @Twitter in the US,’ Unilever said in a post on Twitter.

‘The polarised atmosphere places an increased responsibility on brands to build a trusted & safe digital ecosystem. Our action starts now until the end of 2020.’

Unilever, whose brands also include Dove soap, Magnum ice cream, Lipton tea and Knorr, is a major advertiser on social media in the United States.

Coca-Cola, a major force in global advertising, announced Friday that it would suspend ads on social media for at least 30 days, as platforms face a reckoning over how they deal with racist content.

‘There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media,’ James Quincey, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, said in a brief statement.

He said that social media companies — which other major brands have boycotted to force changes in how they deal with hateful material — needed to provide ‘greater accountability and transparency.’

Coca-Cola will use the pause to ‘reassess our advertising policies to determine whether revisions are needed,’ Quincey said.

The beverage giant told CNBC that the ‘break’ does not mean it is joining the movement launched last week by African American and civil society groups.

The coalition, which includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), has been urging companies to stop advertising on Facebook, using the #StopHateForProfit hashtag.

It aims to achieve better regulation of groups inciting hatred, racism or violence on the platform.

Facebook said that it was taking action against hate speech, adding that it had already banned 250 white supremacist groups, but had more work to do.

‘We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies,’ Facebook said in a statement.

‘We know we have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights groups.’

Chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook also would add tags to posts that are ‘newsworthy’ but violate platform rules — following the lead of Twitter, which has used such labels on tweets from president Donald Trump.

The new policy on hateful content in ads will ‘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,’ Zuckerberg said.

‘We’re also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers’ from hateful ads, he continued.

Facebook has underscored its moves to stem racism in the wake of civil unrest triggered by the May 25 killing of African American George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

‘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 spokesperson said.

‘The investments we have made in (artificial intelligence) mean that we find nearly 90 percent of hate speech’ and take action before users report it.

Zuckerberg said the ‘newsworthy’ exemption normally occurs ‘a handful of times a year,’ when Facebook decides to leave up a message that would ordinarily be removed for rule violations.

Under the new policy, Zuckerberg said, ‘we will soon start labeling some of the content we leave up because it is deemed newsworthy, so people can know when this is the case.’

He said users will be allowed to share the content ‘but we’ll add a prompt to tell people that the content they’re sharing may violate our policies.’

Twitter in recent weeks has labelled at least one Trump tweet misleading and has flagged others as violating platform rules, accessible only when users click through a warning. The move has angered the president and his allies.

US Telecoms giant Verizon announced on Thursday that it was ‘pausing’ its advertising on Facebook, the latest company to do so after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) called for the boycott as part of the ‘Stop the Hate for Profit’ campaign.

The Unilever move however goes beyond Facebook and Facebook-owned Instagram to take in Twitter.

A Unilever spokeswoman said that the company had committed to engage with internet companies ‘but there is much more to be done, especially in the areas of divisiveness and hate speech during this polarised election period in the U.S.’

‘Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society. We will be monitoring ongoing and will revisit our current position if necessary,’ the spokeswoman told AFP

Facebook is under increasing pressure for its hands-off approach to misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly by US President Donald Trump.

The social media company made an estimated $70 billion annually from ads, the coalition — which includes the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) — behind #StopHateForProfit claimed in a statement on the ADL website.

Sporting goods makers Patagonia, North Face and REI, as well as the freelance staffing agency Upwork have all said they would boycott Facebook.

Unilever has taken a series of steps in a bid to improve its image in recent months.

The firm said in October it would cut its use of new plastic by half by 2025, while admitting the move was partly to appeal to young, more environmentally-conscious customers.

Unilever said on Thursday its Indian and Bangladeshi arms would rename their locally marketed ‘Fair & Lovely’ skin-lightening cream in the face of global anti-racism protests.

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