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Unilever is the latest company to join a boycott dubbed “Stop Hate for Profit,” started a week ago by groups including Color of Change, the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League over Facebook’s refusal to tamp down racist and hate speech on its platforms, including posts by President Trump. Unilever is one of Facebook’s top 40 advertisers, having spent nearly $3 million on ads across Facebook and Instagram over the last two months, according to data from Sling & Stone, an agency that tracks ad spend.
More than a dozen notable brands have signed on to the boycott as well, with Verizon on Thursday joining the likes of smaller advertisers like Patagonia, REI, The North Face, Eddie Bauer and Eileen Fisher. Birchbox joined on Friday as well. But Unilever is the first to say it will pull ads from the platforms through the end of 2020. The boycott only calls for advertisers to pull ads through the month of July.
“The polarized atmosphere places an increased responsibility on brands to build a trusted and safe digital ecosystem. Brands have a duty to help build a trusted and safe digital ecosystem,” Unilever wrote on Twitter, where it will no longer advertise.
Facebook’s stock on Friday dropped 7.6 percent to $217 a share on Friday. Twitter’s dropped 7.5 percent to $29 a share.
How much Unilever, the maker of hundreds of products from Dove soap to Breyer’s ice cream, spends on Twitter for ads could not be immediately ascertained. But at its current rate of spend on Facebook, the company will be missing out on roughly $9 million in ad revenue for the rest of this year.
And Unilever in a separate statement alluded to the possibility of pulling its ads for even longer. The Anglo-Dutch group said its new boycott will last “at least” through 2020.
“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society,” Unilever added. It said the company’s position will be monitored on an “ongoing” basis and that it will “revisit our current position if necessary.”
A Facebook spokeswoman clarified that Unilever’s decision to pull ads is only applicable to Facebook and Instagram in the U.S., not international markets. Both platforms are available in nearly every country in the world. She added that Facebook invests “billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and [we] continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies.”
The spokeswoman said the company has just agreed to a new “civil rights audit,” although it also went through one early last year that found the company’s policy on what counted as white supremacy was “too narrow” and suggested a number of ways to find more hate speech that should be banned. Facebook said it’s worked to ban 250 white supremacist groups from Facebook and Instagram and cited newer investments in AI that work to find hate speech for assessment before it’s reported by users. It only banned white supremacy on the platform in March of last year, as part of the last civil rights audit.
“We know we have more work to do, and we’ll continue to work with civil rights groups, GARM, and other experts to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this fight,” the spokeswoman said.
On Thursday, Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global business, provided a more tepid comment through a spokeswoman: “We respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information.”
A Twitter representative could not be immediately reached for comment.
This is the second move Unilever has made in recent days seemingly in direct response to the wave of protests in the U.S. and internationally regarding the Black Lives Matter cause, including social justice issues like police brutality against Black people and institutionalized racism in economic systems and media.
Based in the U.K. and the Netherlands, Unilever said this week it had decided after decades of inaction to change the name and advertising for its brand Fair & Lovely, a cream that’s marketed throughout India and Asia as a skin lightener or “whitener.” The brand has been targeted for years as a prime example of racism through implicit and explicit advertising and marketing methods and even the language in its brand name and related materials. Until now, Unilever had made little change to anything about the brand’s role in promoting the racist ideal that white skin is what people with darker skin should aspire to.
As for its new pull of advertising from the social media platforms, Unilever noted it is not reducing its ad spend for this year, saying: “We will maintain our total planned media investment in the U.S. by shifting to other media.”
In terms of digital platforms, that essentially leaves Google, which already accounts for more than 30 percent of the digital ad market globally, then Snapchat and TikTok. Both of those social platforms have a much smaller user base than Facebook and Instagram, with 2.6 billion and one billion monthly active users, respectively. Snap has about 360 million monthly active users and fast-growing TikTok has about 500 million. Twitter has the smallest user base of the bunch, with about 50 million monthly active users.
Unilever’s public move is sure to further rattle executives at Facebook. Founder and chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg and chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg are said to be pushing to get a meeting with the groups behind the boycott, as first reported by WWD. They are said to be looking to hear specific actions the company can take, but with no guarantee that changes will be made.
The NAACP and Color of Change are said to be willing to meet, but skeptical given the outcome of previous meetings. Zuckerberg met with civil rights groups just a few weeks ago about the company’s instance on “neutrality” when it comes to what many see as incendiary hate speech on the platform, including Trump’s posts. The meeting with Zuckerberg last month was prompted by Facebook’s refusal to act in any way on a Trump post regarding the growing protest over the police killing of George Floyd that read “when they start looting, we start shooting.” After the meeting, civil rights groups released a statement saying they were “disappointed and stunned by Mark’s incomprehensible explanations for allowing the Trump posts to remain up.” Facebook has since made no change to its policy, or lack thereof, on such incendiary language.
Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, CoC’s deputy senior campaign director, told WWD on Thursday that the company has been speaking directly with Facebook for more than five years over such language, as well as issues like racist and white supremacist groups proliferating on the platform and voter misinformation being targeted at Black users.
“Facebook has long been a bad actor,” Ogunnaike said. “We’ve come to a point now where we’re just asking corporations to put their money where their mouth is. Black Lives Matter is not a trend for corporations to exploit.”
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