Anti-Defamation League sends a letter to advertisers, urging them to boycott Facebook

Facebook has come under fire for political decisions that civil rights groups claim allow conspiracy theorists to proliferate and harassment to go unpunished. Facebook has been hit for failing to punish President Donald Trump’s account, after he posted a message in May suggesting shooting at protesters. Trump posted the message on Facebook and Twitter, and Twitter slapped the tweet with a warning tag, while Facebook didn’t punish.

It was a divisive message from the president, but Facebook has been in a difficult position attending to forces in Washington and the demands of activists, who want it to take a tougher line. On Thursday, a report in The Wall Street Journal said the Trump campaign was baffled by social media companies that had penalized him. And Facebook has taken steps to moderate how Trump uses the platform. Last week, it removed one of its ads for featuring “Nazi-era” images.

In recent days, Facebook executives, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg, have spoken to advertisers to expose the case that the company is taking hate speech and disinformation seriously. Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions for Facebook, has sent emails to advertisers to assure them of the platform’s progress.

In his email sent to advertisers this week, which Ad Age obtained, Everson addressed the boycott and said Facebook is making progress, especially when it comes to handling disinformation and election announcements.

“For the sake of making sure I maintain the closest possible contact with you because of the recent boycott call and, more importantly, some of your comments on what Facebook is doing to address hate speech in general, I wanted to provide a major update and a way forward. ” Everson said in his email. “I deeply appreciate all the calls, meetings and messages that many of you have participated in and led that demonstrate the spirit of wanting to partner to not only enhance Facebook’s role in society, but also the online ecosystem overall.”

Facebook recently updated its election ad policies that give people the ability to block all political ads, and also launched a poll center, which shows fully vetted information.

With its letter, the ADL said it was refuting the arguments presented by Facebook executives. One of the areas the letter was addressed to was “civil rights auditors.”

Facebook has said it catches 89 percent of hate speech before spreading on the social network. Civil rights groups said Facebook needs to be more transparent about how it identifies and eliminates hate speech.

Facebook generated $ 70 billion in advertising revenue in 2019 and has more than 8 million advertisers. It is unclear how much a month-long boycott would affect his bottom line. Still, the ADL is trying to push Facebook to adopt stricter policies to prevent harassment by hate groups and limit disinformation.

The ADL said it found at least two brands, Geico and Verizon, posting ads alongside offensive posts by conspiracy groups.

“Our analysts were easily able to find examples such as an ad from the auto insurance company Geico appearing alongside an anti-Semitic and racist conspiracy accusing George Soros of funding black civil rights efforts to push martial law,” he says. the letter. “Similarly, we found a Verizon ad that appears alongside a video of the QAnon conspiracy group based on hateful and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

An ADL spokesperson said the group found the Geico and Verizon ads while browsing Facebook on the desktop, and they appeared to the right of Newsfeed.

Geico was not immediately available for comment.

All digital platforms have come under scrutiny for allowing fringe groups to spread messages. Twitter and YouTube have faced similar criticism. In 2017, the brands supported a boycott of YouTube because ads appeared on videos related to extremist and terrorist content.

Brands are concerned about executing messages when they are adjacent to potentially harmful content, but this has generally not been a major issue on Facebook. The social network has 2,600 million users in all its services, and they see sources of personalized content to their tastes. Most of the ads run on their own sponsored posts, apart from pre-roll video ads.

Still, the ADL said there was too much hateful misinformation on Facebook, which is also a touchy subject as the US election heats up. The 2016 race was marred by the spread of foreign propaganda on social media, and Facebook has been blamed for being a channel that could lead people to conspiracy theories.

“Since Facebook is now, improvement is not that difficult,” the ADL said in its letter. “Take drastic action against misinformation and common conspiracies. Stop recommending hate. Make a series of clear and common sense changes to improve and mitigate hate.”

Contribution from George P. Slefo