Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed the threat of a punitive boycott from big advertisers pushing Facebook to take a stronger stance on hate speech, saying they will be back “soon enough”.
According to a report from the technical news site The Information, the Facebook founder and CEO sees the boycotts of major brands including Starbucks and Coca-Cola as a public relations problem rather than a serious threat and does not plan a major response. “We will not change our policy or strategy for anything because of a threat to a small percentage of our revenue or to a few percent of our revenue,”
The boycott is a “reputation and a partner issue” rather than an economic issue, Zuckerberg told staff, according to a transcript obtained by the news site. “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”
A Facebook spokesman confirmed the accuracy of the transcript. “We take these issues very seriously and respect feedback from our partners. We are making real progress in keeping the issue out of our platform and we are not taking advantage of this type of content. But as we have said, we are making political changes based on principles, not income pressures, the spokesman says.
On Wednesday, more than 500 companies officially launched a promotional booth designed to push Facebook to take a stronger stance against hate speech. Zuckerberg has agreed to meet its organizers early next week.
But if Zuckerberg agrees to further tighten the social network’s carefully crafted rules, probably a more fundamental question will be: do Facebook advertisers of larger brands need brands more than brands Facebook?
In a broad sense, the current boycott, which will last at least a month, is like nothing Facebook has experienced before. After weeks of protests against police violence and racial injustice, big brands have for the first time come together to protest the still-prevailing hate speech on Facebook’s platforms by striving for the social network’s $ 70 billion in annual advertising revenue.
After years of multiple actions to deal with hatred, abuse and misinformation about its service, Facebook critics hope to squeeze the company where it hurts will push it toward more meaningful change. As of Wednesday, 530 companies had signed, and counties such as Target and Starbucks, which have paused advertising but did not formally join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, call their action “a break” rather than a boycott.
On Wednesday, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs and communications, tried to reassure businesses that Facebook was not taking advantage of hate, saying the company had every incentive to remove hate speech from its service. He acknowledged that “many of our critics are angry about the inflammatory rhetoric that President Trump has put on our platform and others, and wants us to be more aggressive when we remove his speech.”
Clegg, however, offered few remission, and instead repeated Zuckerberg’s frequent call that the only way to keep the powerful to account in the end is through the ballot box. He pointed to Facebook’s efforts to get the vote out as proof of the company’s commitment, along with billions of dollars, tens of thousands of content moderators and other investments it has made to try to improve its platform.
While Facebook is making efforts to hear its critics, it remains clear that the ultimate decision will always lie with its founder and CEO, who holds the majority of the company’s voting shares and can effectively run the company all his life, if he wishes.
The Associated Press contributed to this article