Mark Zuckerberg rejected the threat of a punitive boycott from major advertisers urging Facebook to take a firmer stand on hate speech and said they would be back “soon enough.”
According to a report from technology news site The Information, the founder and CEO of Facebook views the boycott of big brands like Starbucks and Coca-Cola as a public relations problem rather than a serious threat, and does not anticipate a major response. “We are not going to change our policies or our approach to anything because of a threat to a small percentage of our income, or to any percentage of our income,” he said, according to the Information.
The boycott is “a matter of reputation and partner” rather than economics, Zuckerberg told staff, according to a transcript obtained from the news site. “I guess all of these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough. “
A Facebook spokesperson confirmed the accuracy of the transcript. “We take these issues very seriously and respect the feedback from our partners. We are making real progress in avoiding hate speech on our platform, and we do not benefit from this type of content. But as we said, we are making policy changes based on principles, not on income pressures, “said the spokesperson.
On Wednesday, more than 500 companies officially launched an advertising boycott to pressure Facebook to take a firmer stand against hate speech. Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with its organizers early next week.
But if Zuckerberg agrees to further tighten the carefully crafted rules of the social network probably boils down to a more fundamental question: Does Facebook need big brand advertisers more than brands need Facebook?
In the broadest sense, the current boycott, which will last at least a month, is unlike anything Facebook has experienced before. After weeks of protests against police violence and racial injustice, big brands came together for the first time to protest hate speech still prevalent on Facebook platforms for $ 70 billion in annual advertising revenue of the social network.
After years of piecemeal measures to combat hatred, abuse and misinformation about its service, Facebook critics hope that pinching the company where it hurts will drive it toward more meaningful change. As of Wednesday, 530 companies have registered, not counting companies such as Target and Starbucks, which have suspended advertising but have not officially joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, which calls its action a “break” rather than a boycott.
On Wednesday, Nick Clegg, vice president of global affairs and communications for Facebook, tried to reassure companies that Facebook did not benefit from hatred and said it was in the company’s best interests to remove the hate speech from his service. He admitted that “many of our critics are angry at the inflammatory rhetoric that President Trump has posted on our platform and others, and want us to be more aggressive in suppressing his speech.”
Clegg, however, offered few concessions and instead repeated Zuckerberg’s frequent point of discussion that ultimately the only way to hold the powerful to account is at the polls. He highlighted Facebook’s efforts to get the vote as proof of the company’s commitment, as well as the billions of dollars, tens of thousands of content moderators and other investments it has made to try to improve its platform.
As Facebook makes efforts to hear its detractors, it remains clear that the final decisions will always rest with its founder and CEO, who owns the majority of the voting shares in the company and could effectively run the company for life if he wanted it.
Associated Press contributed to this article