Mark Zuckerberg has dismissed the threat of a punishing boycott from major advertisers pressing Facebook to take a stronger stand on hate speech and said they will be back “soon enough”.
According to a report by tech news site the Information, the Facebook founder and CEO sees the boycott from big brands including Starbucks and Coca-Cola as a PR issue rather than a serious threat and is not planning a major response. “We’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue,” he said, according to the Information.
The boycott is a “reputational and a partner issue” rather than an economic one, Zuckerberg told staff, according to a transcript obtained by the news site. “My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the transcript. “We take these matters very seriously and respect the feedback from our partners. We’re making real progress keeping hate speech off our platform, and we don’t benefit from this kind of content. But as we’ve said, we make policy changes based on principles, not revenue pressures,” the spokesperson said.
On Wednesday, more than 500 companies officially kicked off an advertising boycott intended to pressure Facebook into taking a stronger stand against hate speech. Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with its organisers early next week.
But whether Zuckerberg agrees to further tighten the social network’s carefully crafted rules probably boils down to a more fundamental question: does Facebook need big-brand advertisers more than the brands need Facebook?
In a broad sense, the current boycott, which will last at least a month, is like nothing Facebook has experienced before. Following weeks of protests against police violence and racial injustice, major brands have for the first time joined together to protest against still-prevalent hate speech on Facebook’s platforms by taking aim at the social network’s $70bn in annual ad revenue.
After years of piecemeal measures to address hate, abuse and misinformation on its service, Facebook’s critics hope that pinching the company where it hurts will push it toward more meaningful change. As of Wednesday, 530 companies had signed on and that is not counting businesses such as Target and Starbucks, which have paused advertising but did not formally join the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which calls its action “a pause” rather than a boycott.
On Wednesday, Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice-president of global affairs and communications, tried to reassure businesses that Facebook does not benefit from hate and said the company has every incentive to remove hate speech from its service. He acknowledged that “many of our critics are angry about the inflammatory rhetoric President Trump has posted on our platform and others, and want us to be more aggressive in removing his speech”.
Clegg, however, offered few concessions, and instead repeated Zuckerberg’s frequent talking point that the only way to hold the powerful to account is ultimately through the ballot box. He pointed to Facebook’s get-out-the-vote efforts as evidence of the company’s commitment, along with the billions of dollars, tens of thousands of content moderators and other investments it has made in trying to improve its platform.
While Facebook is making efforts to hear out its critics, it remains clear that ultimate decisions will always rest with its founder and CEO, who holds the majority of the company’s voting shares and could effectively run the company for life, should he desire to.
Associated Press contributed to this article