Facebook boycott grows as US activists urge European firms to act

Call for companies to withdraw advertising comes as Wiley is suspended from platform over Instagram posts

An unprecedented boycott of Facebook is moving across the Atlantic, as the coalition of activist groups behind the Stop Hate for Profit campaign have called on companies in Europe to join in the action.

The campaign has already gained the support of more than a thousand brands in the US, including Coca-Cola, Unilever and Ford, some of which have extended their boycotts globally. Now, the coalition, coordinated in Europe by the Centre for Countering Digital Hate, is calling on British and other European companies to join in the movement.

“98% of Facebook’s revenue comes from packaging up its users’ data and selling it to advertisers,” said Imran Ahmed, CCDH’s chief executive. “By persuading more than 1,000 companies to stop advertising on Facebook, Stop Hate for Profit has shown it can materially disrupt their business model.

“We are appealing to UK and European advertisers to take a stand against racism and pause their advertising on Facebook until we see real change.”

As the campaign launches, Facebook faces different pressures in the UK and other European countries from the US, where many of the concerns were over a failure to tackle race hate speech amid the Black Lives Matter protests.

Ahmed said: “It’s inescapable that the backdrop to this launch in the UK is first the Covid crisis and the big focus on anti-vax propaganda.” But he said the focus had then shifted following the antisemitic outburst from grime star Wiley on Twitter and on Instagram, which is owned by Facebook.

The musician has been banned from Facebook and Instagram in the wake of his antisemitic posts, a second Instagram account was apparently made in his real name to take aim at some of his Jewish critics, including Alan Sugar and Radio 5 presenter Emma Barnett.

A message reportedly mentioning Golders Green, an area of London known for its large Jewish community, was removed before Facebook decided to pull the account altogether. His official verified account was also taken down, as well as his Instagram profile.

Ahmed said the issues over Covid-19 and the anti-vaccine lobby on social media were “really good examples of the failure of social media giants to deal with hate and misinformation on their platforms”. He added: “In both instances the charge has credibly been laid that their failure to act is linked to the profit they make from the anti-vax industry and from tolerating hate.

“That doesn’t mean for a second that we’ve forgotten that when it comes to anti-black racism, anti-Muslim racism, climate denial and anti-Traveller hate, these platforms are massively culpable.”

The campaign launches the day after Facebook came under another wave of criticism for failing to act fast enough over a viral video, which claimed that there was a “cure” for Covid-19, that gathered more than 20m views over the weekend and was eventually posted on Twitter by Donald Trump and his son Donald Jr. The latter was temporarily suspended from further posting on the site for 12 hours as a result.

“It’s less about the moment than it is about this growing realisation that we, the users of social media platforms, aren’t the customers, we’re the products,” Ahmed added. “Our data is packaged and sold to the real customers, advertisers, and there is now an inescapable focus on advertisers to act as the civilising force on social media.”

Advertising revenue makes up 98% of Facebook’s $70.7bn (£54.7bn) annual revenue, with 8m advertisers in total, but the majority of the income comes from smaller companies, rather than the large multinationals, which have been the primary supporters of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

“We hope that we’ll see other people, other businesses, small medium and large come to the realisation that they too can make an impact,” Ahmed says. “This is just the beginning. Facebook is shaken because they’ve been figured out: it was never about people and popular awareness, it was always about the advertising.”


Alex Hern Technology editor

The GuardianTramp

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