Facebook has pledged to change its policies on hate speech and voter suppression after Unilever became the biggest advertiser yet to join a growing revolt against the platform.
The US arm of the household goods giant today added its name to 100 fellow advertisers – including Verizon, The North Face and Ben & Jerry’s – that have boycotted the social network over its handling of content.
It promised to stop spending on the platform for the rest of the year, saying in a statement: "Given our Responsibility Framework and the polarised atmosphere in the US, we have decided that starting now through at least the end of the year, we will not run brand advertising in social media newsfeed platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the US
"Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society. We will be monitoring ongoing and will revisit our current position if necessary."
Unilever’s retreat represents a major scalp for the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ campaign, set up by several US civil rights groups after the death of George Floyd, which has been successfully urging brands to pull spend from Facebook for the month of July to force it to take stronger action on hate speech and misinformation.
One of the biggest advertisers in the world, Unilever spent $8.2bn on marketing in 2019 and Facebook’s shares closed 8.3% down following its intervention.
In response to the mounting advertiser pressure, Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg has now released an impromptu statement promising “new policies to connect people with authoritative information about voting, crack down on voter suppression, and fight hate speech”.
Actions include labelling posts that are potentially harmful and even in violation of the platform's policies but are not censored by the platform because they are deemed newsworthy.
Facebook will also add a link to its voting information centre to posts that reference voting, including those made by politicians such as President Trump.
But Zuckerberg stopped short of pledging to outright remove all divisive political material.
“A handful of times a year, we leave up content that would otherwise violate our policies if the public interest value outweighs the risk of harm,” he wrote.
“Often, seeing speech from politicians is in the public interest, and in the same way that news outlets will report what a politician says, we think people should generally be able to see it for themselves on our platforms.”
He went on to say, however, that Facebook would remove content – no matter “if a politican or government official says it” – “if we determine [it] may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote”.
The moves “are designed to address the reality of the challenges our country is facing and how they're showing up across our community,” the Facebook founder added.
It remains to be seen whether Zuckerberg's intervention is enough to quell the advertiser unrest, though Jerry Daykin, the GSK media director and occasional columnist for The Drum, tonight cautiously welcomed the moves on Twitter.
"Credit where credit is due, it may not solve everything but Facebook is making changes," he wrote.
Read Zuckerberg’s statement in full below: