Zuckerberg says Facebook will crack down on hate speech as ad boycott widens

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Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook will accelerate a crackdown on hate speech — less than an hour after consumer-products giant Unilever announced it was yanking all Facebook ads for the rest of the year.

In a striking about-face in a controversy that has increasingly engulfed the social network, Facebook’s 35-year-old boss on Friday said Facebook will flag posts from public figures that violate its rules but which are considered newsworthy.

Facebook, which until Friday had cited free speech as it defended its hands-off approach to abuse, will likewise ban ads that claim people from a specific ethnic group, nationality, gender, or sexual orientation are a threat to the physical safety or health of others.

“I am committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues,” Zuckerberg said. “But I also stand against hate or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that content too.”

Zuckerberg didn’t mention the fact that Unilever, the maker Dove soap, Lipton tea and Hellmann’s mayonnaise, had said earlier Friday it will halt its spending on Facebook ads due to “the polarized atmosphere in the US,” noting that the freeze would also apply to Twitter as well as Facebook-owned Instagram.

“The complexities of the current cultural landscape have placed a renewed responsibility on brands to learn, respond and act to drive a trusted and safe digital ecosystem,” the company wrote in a blog post.

“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society,” the statement continued.

Unilever’s announcement is the latest in an advertiser boycott that has added major names like North Face, Patagonia, Verizon and Ben & Jerry’s. The big brands have thrown support behind civil rights groups that have hammered Facebook for what they say is its failure to do enough about hate speech and misinformation.

Earlier in the week it emerged that Zuckerberg personally joined a meeting with advertisers to listen to their concerns and explain that Facebook is committed to neutrality. Zuckerberg reportedly tried to explain that what might be viewed as offensive by one person might not offend another, according to Business Insider.

Facebook executives have been adamant that they will not be bullied into making changes they do not want to make, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“We do not make policy changes tied to revenue pressure,” Facebook’s vice president of Global Business Group Carolyn Everson said in an email, according to the report. “We set our policies based on principles rather than business interests.”

Unlike Twitter, which has courted controversy for flagging posts from President Trump that it said could incite violence or spread misinformation, Facebook will still allow any offending posts to be shared “in order to condemn it,” Zuckerberg said.

“This is an important part of how we discuss what is acceptable in our society,” he added.

Zuckerberg’s announcement did little to reverse the direction of Facebook’s stock, which tumbled 8.3 percent to $216.08. The drop wiped more than $6 billion off of Zuckerberg’s net worth, which now sits at just over $80 billion.

In a Friday statement, a Facebook spokesperson said the company has banned 250 white supremacist organizations from Facebook and Instagram. Using artificial intelligence, Facebook detects nearly 90 percent of hate speech before users report it.

A Twitter spokesperson said that the site is “committed to amplifying voices from underrepresented communities and marginalized groups.”

“We are respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time,” they added.

Shares of Twitter were down 7.8 percent at $28.92.

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