Unilever joins Facebook ad boycott for racist content

Unilever says it will stop advertising on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter at least until the rest of the year, joining a number of companies that have withdrawn Facebook ads because of the social network’s failure to control racist and violent information.

“Continuing to advertise on these platforms right now would not add value to people and society,” the consumer goods giant said in a statement on Friday. He added that there was much more work to be done in the areas of hate speech and political polarization in the United States.

“The complexity of today’s cultural landscape has placed a renewed responsibility on brands to learn, respond and act to drive a safe and reliable digital ecosystem,” the company said, adding that it would pass its planned spending on to other media.

Unilever is an Anglo-Dutch conglomerate with more than $ 60 billion in annual sales. It owns dozens of major consumer brands worldwide, from Lipton tea and Hellmann’s mayonnaise to numerous ice creams (Breyers, Ben & Jerry’s and Klondike) and soaps (Dove, Ax and Lifebuoy) and other personal care products (Dermologica, Degree and Lux)

The racial justice group Color of Change called the Unilever movement “a big step forward in holding Facebook accountable for allowing hateful, demeaning and discriminatory content against blacks.”

Unilever is the last major company to join the boycott organized by civil rights and other advocacy groups under the war cry of “#StopHateforProfit”. The protest, spurred by last month murder of george floyd by the Minneapolis police, it’s supposed to last until July.

A day earlier, Verizon, one of the world’s largest telecommunications companies, withdrew its Facebook ads.

“We have strict content policies and we have zero tolerance for violations, we take action,” New York-based Verizon said in a statement. “We are pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable.”

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Other advertisers who have pledged to temporarily stay out of Facebook and other Facebook services like Instagram include three major outdoor equipment companies, Patagonia, The North Face and REI.

When asked about the boycott, a Facebook spokesperson noted the investments the company made to combat hate speech, noting that it had banned white supremacist groups from the platform and was experiencing what the company called a ” civil rights audit. “

“We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continually work with outside experts to review and update our policies,” according to a Facebook statement the spokesperson provided.

“The investments we have made in artificial intelligence mean that we found almost 90% of the hate speech we act on before users report it to us, while a recent EU report found that Facebook evaluated more reports of speech from I hate in 24 hours that Twitter and YouTube. ” continued. “We know we have more work to do, and we will continue to work with civil rights groups … and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight.”

Among the civil rights organizations that urge companies to participate in the boycott are the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League.

ADL Executive Director and National Director Jonathan Greenblatt stated in an open letter Thursday that “hate speech, incitement and disinformation policies are inequitable. Their services to victims of bullying are inadequate. The proximity of its advertising location to hateful content is casual. ” rights audit transparency reports are not helpful to the civil rights community. “

He noted an instance in which a Verizon ad was posted alongside “a video of the QAnon conspiracy group based on hateful and anti-Semitic rhetoric.”

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Common Sense, one of the boycott organizers, said other companies that agreed to “pause” their Facebook advertising include retailer Eddie Bauer, web browser maker Mozilla and a movie studio, Magnolia Pictures.

The boycott, in theory, could reduce Facebook’s profits, as the company gets most of its money from interest-targeted ads that more than 2 billion people share on its various services. However, investors so far don’t seem concerned about that. The company made nearly $ 20 billion in profit of more than $ 70 billion in advertising revenue last year.

Shares in the Menlo Park, California-based company hit a record high of $ 245.19 earlier this week and have not fallen dramatically. The stock closed Thursday at $ 235.68.

Facebook is also under increasing pressure for what many see as its direct approach to disinformation and inflammatory announcements and posts, including from President Trump’s reelection campaign.

Twitter has also been pressured to do more for police to discuss the speech on its social media platform.

In a statement Friday, a Twitter spokesperson said in a statement that the company had developed policies “designed to protect and serve the public conversation,” and remained “committed to amplifying the voices of underrepresented communities and marginalized groups. We are respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time. “

– Irina Ivanova of CBS News contributed reporting.