Civil rights groups bemoan ‘disappointing’ Facebook meeting

The civil rights groups that organised the snowballing advertiser boycott against Facebook reacted angrily at what they say was a “disappointing” meeting with top executives who failed to address their demands. 

Campaigners including Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League attended an hour-long Zoom meeting with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, and Chris Cox, chief product officer, on Tuesday to discuss the boycott — which urges marketers to pull their ad dollars from the company during July over its perceived failure to clamp down on racism and hate speech. 

Nearly 1,000 advertisers — including big consumer brands such as Verizon, Unilever and Ford — have joined to date, with some choosing to shun the platform for longer periods of time. 

However, the campaigners said that Facebook had not responded to their requests, including an end to the amplification of hate groups, regular independent audits of hate speech and misinformation on the platform, and refunds to advertisers whose ads are placed next to hateful content. 

“We expected in the call today that we would have some clarity, that we would have some details, that we would have results,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the ADL on a call with reporters. “Unfortunately, we got no details, no clarity, and no result.

“What we heard from them was that they are on a journey and think they are doing better. In our opinion, there is no journey on fighting hate. This is not an issue with two sides,” he said, adding his analysts had found evidence that Amazon, Sony and National Geographic all had adverts published alongside hateful content on Tuesday morning. 

“Facebook approached our meeting today like it was nothing more than a PR exercise,” said Jessica González, Free Press co-chief executive. Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, said the meeting was a “disappointment”.

Facebook has announced several small policy changes since the boycott began to gather steam. Campaigners were angered further last week after reports that Mr Zuckerberg had told employees that “all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough”. 

In a statement on Tuesday, the company said the meeting “was an opportunity for us to hear from the campaign organisers and reaffirm our commitment to combating hate on our platform”, and highlighted recent moves to take down the accounts of white supremacist groups.

Earlier on Tuesday, Ms Sandberg said in a blog post that Facebook was “striv[ing] constantly to get better and faster at enforcing” its policies against hate. She said the company would publish the final report of a two-year long civil rights audit carried out by civil rights experts. 

Facebook would also be introducing changes as a result of the review “not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do”, Ms Sandberg added.