Is Facebook finally starting to feel the consequences of platforming hate speech? The question remains to be answered, but an advertising boycott of the company is beginning to gain traction. Coca-Cola, Starbucks, and Unilever are just three of the major companies that have announced a boycott of Facebook due to its inaction on hate speech. And now, according to CNN, “the boycott is starting to rattle investors”.
Facebook and the far right
What investors think is usually secondary to anybody interested in equality and social justice. But, unfortunately for most of humanity, the only thing that makes the likes of Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg take notice are the concerns of investors. Time and again the company has been warned that it is platforming all kinds of racism and hatred. Its response has been to ignore the issue. Or, if it does respond, to not tackle the issue wholeheartedly.
When Zuckerberg came to Ireland in 2019, he was presented with a report by Irish activists regarding the presence of the Irish far right on his platform. It was pointed out to him that there are dozens of pages on Facebook that cater to hate speech, racism, and the far right in Ireland. His company’s policy in dealing with them was also highlighted. The document argued that Facebook handles complaints around hate speech and racism in a “haphazard and inconsistent” way.
This was also confirmed in a report published last month by the Tech Transparency Project (TPP). It found that instead of clamping down on hate speech and racism, Facebook has actually become “an echo chamber of white supremacism”. Despite Facebook’s claims, the TPP argued that:
Research suggests there continues to be a gap between Facebook’s public relations responses and the company’s enforcement of its own policies.
The Trump problem
There’s no better example of this than US president Donald Trump. It was only when the boycott of Facebook was threatened that the company announced it would finally take action. And now it has begun to remove posts made by Trump for violating its policies on hate speech.
One of the posts it removed was a Trump ad attacking the far left and “antifa”. The ad also featured an upside-down red triangle. This was a symbol used by the Nazis in concentration camps to identify political prisoners. Trump’s history of racist dog-whistling has, it seems, hit new lows.
If this is what it took for Facebook to finally do something then the company clearly has a lot to answer for. But Trump is only the highest profile racist hate monger on social media. There are people and groups far worse than him.
And although Trump may embolden them with his pontificating against the left and the Black Lives Matter movement, he is not their leader. They have their own ideologies and structures that pose an imminent threat to the lives of minorities and activists. And they find ample room to recruit and spread their message on Facebook.
The right thing for the wrong reason
So, Facebook is finally doing something. But it’s a case of doing the right thing for the wrong reasons. It’s not taking hate speech seriously because it’s the ethical thing to do. It’s only doing it because investors are worried. With companies like Facebook, they often have to be forced into taking action. It rarely comes willingly, especially if they think it will affect their bottom line.
With Facebook’s European headquarters based in Dublin, the Irish government’s proposed updating of hate speech laws could have international consequences. This might further force the hand of Facebook into tackling the racism problem it platforms as well as cultivates.
At the moment the company is only just starting to feel a financial pinch because of its inaction. Imagine what a worldwide boycott would do.
Featured image via Flickr – Anthony Quintano