The protests against police violence that took by surprise the streets of the US a month ago are having a profound impact, not only on the protocols and policies of individual cities, but also on one of the world's largest corporations: Facebook. A group of organizations led by the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) launched the Stop Hate for Profit initiative, a call to stop buying advertising on Facebook until the company changes its content policies.
According to Reuters, Carolyn Everson, global vice president for business solutions, and Neil Potts, director of public policy, had at least two meetings this week with company representatives to try to reach an agreement and stop the boycott, but the negotiations were not successful. "Things are just not moving forward," said an executive from one of the corporations. A Facebook spokesperson reported that CEO Mark Zuckerberg would come into the conversation with the companies. On Wednesday, July 1, the boycott started.
This week the social network announced that it would allow an external audit of its policies against hate speech. One of the steps would be to mark offensive content with the "news" label, like what Twitter has done with some messages from Donald Trump that violate its content policies.
For years, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg has refused to take decisive action against fake news circulating on his platform. As a result, he has been forced to take several measures to prevent the spread of fake content. The operation conducted by Russia in 2016 to promote Donald Trump's candidacy is known to have found Facebook to be its primary means of dissemination. In addition, the social network has served as a forum for far-right groups around the world, where they spread racist and hateful messages.
The initiative calls for a halt to advertising purchases during the month of July. So far about 400 major brands have joined the Stop Hate for ProfitÂ¸ call including Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Ford, Diageo, Honda, Levi's, Unilever, and Verizon.
"A few times a year we make the decision to leave content that violates our policies because we believe the public interest outweighs the risk of such content," Mark Zuckerberg said on a Facebook Live. "Just as the news media often reports what a politician said, we think it's important that people are generally able to see it for themselves on our platforms, too".
Zuckerberg added that there would be no exceptions for politicians in any of the company's new policies; that there would be no exceptions for those who break the rules and incite violence or voting suppression.
LPO spoke with David Cruz, spokesperson for LULAC, an organization with many years of experience in the fight for the rights of Latinos in the U.S. "[Facebook and Twitter] have to exercise more editorial control," he said. "Not censorship but giving more thought to the content and not just opening the doors and accepting anything people might say about our communities".
Cruz criticized that, furthermore, companies like Facebook expect communities of color to support their business model. The spokesman said they were looking into getting new legislation in this regard, although he noted that it would hardly happen before the Nov. 3 election. "We're going to oppose these practices and talk to our political allies."
"On the business side, if companies are advertising on these platforms, they are supporting hate content. Tweets or posts with fake news, with anti-immigrant messages come out, and the sponsors have the responsibility to stop advertising in these platforms, because if hate doesn't make a profit, it's no longer good business", he said.
Cruz was blunt about the new content policies announced by Facebook: "Zuckerberg is a liar. He has promised communities of color a lot of things and he doesn't deliver, or he delivers only halfway," he said. The spokesman went on to say that the association will no longer accept half-measures. "Either he supports us or he doesn't support us. This gentleman must understand that his platforms are being abused by supremacist groups that promote attacks against our people. We are not going to accept a partial solution. That is our position." According to Cruz, the actions, and policies that Facebook has announced in the past "are nothing more than corporate bureaucracy."
LPO consulted a social media specialist from a major international agency, who explained that for these platforms, controversy, polarization, and hate are part of the business model.
"It's well known that social media needs controversial content to keep the interactions going," he said. "That's why they tend to be hate networks. If you look at Twitter, the content that generates controversy or polarization is the content that is most liked and most favored by the [company's] algorithm."
Regarding the response from multiple international brands, LULAC's spokesman added that they were very encouraged to keep going. "It's affected [Facebook]. They must understand that it's not a game anymore and they're not going to convince us with promises. This must be done. The time for bringing us a keg of beer and some tamales is over. It is not just civil rights anymore, it's economic rights. We are a big part of the economy and I'm glad that the brands see that they have to respect African Americans and Latinos. We must take advantage of this moment and not be shy. We're not getting anything for free, this is about business," he said.
Regarding the Black Lives Matter movement, which seeks to end police violence against the African American community, Cruz said LULAC is standing firmly behind them: "Their fight is our fight.
"With the Black Lives Matter movement, we are witnessing history, demonstrations that we have not seen since the 1960s. This is perhaps the fulfillment of what Dr. King was asking for. I hope that we as communities of color will work together for the benefit of all," he said.
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