Color of Change President Rashad Robinson described the meeting as “disappointing” during a news conference later Tuesday. The organizers of the campaign, known as #StopHateForProfit, provided a list of demands to the social network days before the meeting, he said, and the company did not have clear responses to their recommendations.
“Attending alone is not enough,” said Robinson, who participated in the meeting over Zoom, which lasted over an hour. “At this point, we were expecting some very clear answers to the recommendations we put on the table. And we did not get them.”
Instead, the leaders said they were met with only partial responses to one demand: hiring an executive with civil rights expertise. But Facebook would not commit that position would be at the C-suite level as the organizers demanded, said Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League, who participated in the meeting. They also would not say what the requirements of the position would be.
“It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team is not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform,” Greenblatt said.
“This meeting was an opportunity for us to hear from the campaign organizers and reaffirm our commitment to combating hate on our platform. They want Facebook to be free of hate speech and so do we,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said.
Zuckerberg also did not address the organizers’ call for the company to provide automatic recourse to companies whose advertisements appear alongside hateful content, the organizers said.
The boycott organizers “didn’t hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action,” Free Press CO-CEO Jessica J. González said. “Instead of committing to a timeline to root out hate and disinformation on Facebook, the company’s leaders delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands.”
The meeting took place amid escalating calls to reform Facebook. More than 750 companies, including Coca-Cola, Hershey and Unilever, have suspended advertising on the platform. Boycott organizers contend Facebook has allowed content to flourish that could incite violence and exacerbate social strife. By targeting Facebook’s ad dollars in the most substantive effort yet, organizers hope Zuckerberg and his team will be compelled to take action.
In a Facebook post Tuesday morning, Sandberg placed the meetings in the context of ongoing protests and calls to root out racism in American society.
The company has said it invests billions of dollars every year to ensure the safety of its users, and it partners with outside experts to update its policies. Sandberg said the company will release the final report from its years-long civil rights audit on Wednesday.
“While we won’t be making every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice soon,” she said.
But the civil rights leaders said they were skeptical that the audit would lead to meaningful change at Facebook, after years of the company promising to do more to address voter suppression and racism. Robinson said the audit is only a review and recommendations.
“It’s only as good as what Facebook actually ends up doing with the content,” Robinson said. “If they don’t actually do anything it’s like going to the doctor, getting a new set of recommendations about your diet, doing nothing about it and then wondering why you’re not any healthier.”
But advertisers and civil rights groups have been unimpressed with Facebook’s promises to curb hate speech and label posts from politicians that violate the social network’s rules.
As the largest social network in the world, claiming 2.6 billion users, the company has an outsized role in media and global affairs. It has positioned itself as a vital communications platform and an on-ramp for 8 million advertisers, most of them small businesses. Nearly all of its $70 billion in revenue last year came from advertising.
While the pandemic has rocked companies that can’t thrive amid distancing and remote work, investors have flocked to the social network and other tech giants, sending Facebook’s share price to new highs. Its market cap has swelled to nearly $700 billion.
In her post Tuesday, Sandberg said the audit was well underway before the current protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody. She said Facebook’s actions were motivated by a sense of duty, even as the company faces mounting public pressure.
“We are making changes — not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do,” Sandberg said.
Facebook has previously met with civil rights group leaders, who have criticized the company’s policy of not fact-checking politicians’ ads and its hands-off approach to President Trump’s incendiary remarks and misleading claims about mail-in voting. Zuckerberg’s June meeting with civil rights leaders, which included Robinson, only further inflamed tensions, as they criticized him for lacking basic knowledge of the history of voter suppression in the United States.
González said that these discussions are growing more pressing in 2020, as the country grapples with the coronavirus pandemic, a presidential election and widespread protests against police brutality and systemic racism.
“We’re tired, we’re tired of the dialogue because the stakes are so incredibly high for our communities,” González said. “We’re seeing Facebook fail to meet the moment.”
Advocates have pushed Facebook to conduct and publicly release the results of its civil rights audit for years. The company has previously released two updates about the review, which it began in the summer of 2018. The first outlined the company’s efforts to address voter suppression on its platform. It was published in December 2018, shortly after reports prepared for the Senate Intelligence Committee exposed the extent of Russia’s efforts to target black voters on social media during the 2016 election. The second, published in summer 2019, outlined updates the company made to its ban on white supremacy.
Zuckerberg and Sandberg additionally met Tuesday with Vanita Gupta, the chief executive and president of the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, and Sherrilyn Ifill, the president of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund. Laura W. Murphy, who has led the civil rights audit, also attended that meeting.
Gupta said that the leaders focused on voting, elections and disinformation on the platform during that meeting.
“There’s still remaining a pretty core problem around the company’s inaction on voter misinformation and voter supression,” Gupta said. “They still haven’t taken action on the key, fundamental issue, which is how they define voter supression.”
Sandberg, relying on phrasing often used by tech companies, concluded her post by saying, “We are never going to be perfect, but we care about this deeply. We will continue to listen and learn and work in the weeks, months and years ahead.”
Facebook’s ambition and size has attracted scrutiny not just from civil rights leaders but also from lawmakers worried about the power tech platforms wield in the marketplace. Zuckerberg, alongside the titans sitting atop Amazon, Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet, will testify in front of Congress later this month, as part of an antitrust investigation into the potential abuses of big tech. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)
The unsatisfied organizers say they intend to keep the pressure on the company. The ADL’s Greenblatt said the advertising suspension “will continue to grow and it will get more global, and it will get more intense until we get the answers I think we are looking for.”
Craig Timberg contributed to this report.