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Big Brands Boycott Facebook, Calling For A Crackdown On Malicious Content


This is the day when an advertiser boycott of Facebook takes effect. More than 300 companies are taking down ads, including Target, Starbucks and Volkswagen. Some are acting just for this month of July, others for longer. And the boycott includes Facebook's property Instagram. The companies are pressing Facebook to do more about malicious content. Facebook, we should note, is among NPR's financial supporters, though we cover them just the same, including criticism of the company, which we are hearing this morning from NPR tech correspondent Shannon Bond. Good morning.

SHANNON BOND, BYLINE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: And we should note the advertisers are pressing Facebook because they're under pressure. Who's pushing them?

BOND: A coalition of advocacy groups is urging these advertisers to pull their money from Facebook. One of those groups is Color of Change. They're a civil rights organization. And I spoke with their president, Rashad Robinson. He says Facebook has given its critics no other choice.

RASHAD ROBINSON: This failure to address these problems have given those of us in the civil rights community, as well as corporations, only one path, and that is the path of having to pursue this boycott.

BOND: So the coalition is making 10 demands of Facebook, ranging from giving advertisers their money back if their ads appear next to content that gets removed to cracking down on lies from politicians.

INSKEEP: Do all 300 of the companies that are dropping Facebook for a while support all the demands?

BOND: Well, there's a real mix. Some do support the demands, but some others, like Coca-Cola and Target say, yes, we're going to pause and reconsider our Facebook advertising, in some cases all of their social media advertising. But they say they're not officially joining this boycott. And I think what's going on there is these companies feel pressure. There are these huge protests, this reckoning over racism we're seeing in this country. Companies feel pressure to show they're doing something. But they also want to put some distance between themselves and this campaign, so they're more free to make their own decisions about whether and when to resume advertising on Facebook.

INSKEEP: Well, how is Facebook responding?

BOND: Well, Facebook says it invests billions of dollars in keeping its platform safe. And just yesterday, it said it banned hundreds of accounts and groups connected to the Boogaloo movement. That's a loose network of far-right extremists. And that's the kind of thing advertisers want to see the company doing. Here's what Facebook top spokesman, Nick Clegg, told CNN on Sunday.


NICK CLEGG: Facebook - we have absolutely no incentive to tolerate hate speech. We don't like it. Our users don't like it. Advertisers understandably don't like it.

BOND: Clegg pointed out that over a hundred billion messages are sent on Facebook's platforms every day. And so, you know, the company tries to crack down. It's not perfect. It can't remove everything.

Last week, CEO Mark Zuckerberg did announce some policy changes. Facebook is going to put warning labels on posts from politicians like President Trump that break its rules, and that's a huge reversal. But when Zuckerberg made that announcement, he did not mention the advertising boycott at all.

INSKEEP: Well, can I just ask - you've mentioned a couple of times here that for many companies this is a temporary departure. They're coming back. How dependent are they on Facebook?

BOND: Well, you know, Facebook has a huge stable of advertisers. I mean, its whole business is advertising. But for many of these advertisers, it's just not really a choice to leave Facebook. Facebook and other social media groups let them reach specific communities at a fraction of what they would pay to, you know, buy a commercial on broadcast television.

You know, a really good example I think is one of - you know, one of its biggest spenders right now is the Biden campaign. You know, Joe Biden has been very vocal lately in criticizing Facebook. He's calling for changes. He says the company needs to crack down more on hate speech. But, you know, when NPR asked his campaign if it was going to stop advertising on Facebook, the spokesman told us, quote, "with less than five months until Election Day, we cannot afford to cede these platforms to Donald Trump and his lies."

INSKEEP: That's a quote. NPR Shannon Bond, thanks so much.

BOND: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Shannon Bond is a business correspondent at NPR, covering technology and how Silicon Valley's biggest companies are transforming how we live, work and communicate.
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