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Facebook faces a growing advertising boycott after consumer goods giant Unilever joins

Unilever said it will pull its advertising from Facebook, Instagram and Twitter for the rest of 2020 in response to hate speech on the social media sites.

Facebook faces growing advertiser boycotts from Unilever, Patagonia and others. (Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg)

Unilever, the company behind brands such as Dove, Lipton and Hellmann’s, is pulling advertising from Facebook and Twitter in the U.S. for the rest of the year, adding to a growing list of companies protesting the social media site’s handling of hate speech online.

Unilever said in a statement it also plans to pull ads from Facebook-owned Instagram this year. Civil rights groups have been pushing companies to put their financial weight behind a Facebook boycott because the social media sites continue to allow hateful and harmful content on their sites, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society,” Unilever wrote in a statement on its website. It cited “the polarized atmosphere in the U.S.”

Unilever joins Patagonia, The North Face and others in announcing a temporary advertising boycott on Facebook in the last week. Unilever’s ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s had joined the boycott earlier in the week, before its parent company. The Hershey Company also said it would halt advertising on Facebook during July and cut it’s advertising on the site by one-third for the rest of this year.

Coca-Cola announced its own ban late on Friday, saying it would pull advertising from all social media sites for 30 days.

“We will take this time to reassess our advertising standards and policies to determine whether revisions are needed internally, and what more we should expect of our social media partners to rid the platforms of hate, violence and inappropriate content,” the company said in a statement.

The Technology 202: Major brands announce temporary Facebook ad boycott

Verizon also said it would pull ads from Facebook and join a growing campaign — Stop Hate for Profit, led by the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, the NAACP and other advocacy groups. The campaign started earlier this month and calls for advertisers to speak up against hate speech on Facebook and push for the company to implement stricter policies. It specifically calls for advertisers to pull all ads from Facebook during the month of July to put financial pressure on the company to ban more hate speech from its site.

“Let’s send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence," the Stop Hate for Profit website reads.

“We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners,” said Verizon chief media officer John Nitti in a statement.

Facebook announced new policies against hate speech on Friday — including a policy that will label any post that violates its policies but that Facebook deems newsworthy enough to remain online. Facebook will also remove all posts that incite violence or seek to supress voters.

But some civil rights groups, including Color of Change, said the changes did not go far enough.

Facebook will label violating posts from public figures going forward

The Wall Street Journal first reported Unilever’s decision on Friday. Facebook spokesperson Ashley Zandy said the company invests billions of dollars every year to “keep our community safe.”

“We know we have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights groups, (Global Alliance for Responsible Media), and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight," she said in a statement.

Facebook has faced harsh criticism in the last few months for allowing statements made by President Donald Trump to remain on its site, even as fellow social media site Twitter took steps to label and limit them. In particular, Facebook was skewered by civil rights advocates and its own employees for letting Trump’s post that said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to stay online untouched

Facebook employees said they were ‘caught in an abusive relationship’ with Trump as internal debates raged

Stop Hate for Profit points out that Facebook made nearly $70 billion in advertising revenue last year and still allowed “incitement to violence against protesters fighting for racial justice” and “turned a blind eye to blatant voter suppression.”

Facebook has bolstered its teams and technology dedicated to rooting out hate speech and misinformation in the past few years, but some critics say its efforts don’t go far enough.

Unilever is the first high-profile company to also include Twitter in the recent advertising ban. Twitter vice president of global client solutions Sarah Personette said it has policies in place to protect people online and works to surface marginalized voices.

“We are respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time,” she said in a statement in response to Unilever’s ban.