Throughout his presidency, Donald Trump has used social media to spread misinformation, incite violence, and stoke racial divides. And he has emboldened others to do the same. In one of his most infamous messages, he threatened: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts.”
In May, Twitter began adding warning labels on Trump’s false and violence-glorifying claims in order to minimize the spread of misinformation and violence on its platform. Meanwhile, the world’s largest social media platform, Facebook, did little.
In response, the Anti-Defamation League, CommonSense, Color of Change, Mozilla, the NAACP, and others have launched the #StopHateForProfit campaign. The campaign calls on Facebook’s advertisers to cease all ads for the month of July in an effort to encourage the social media giant to take more serious measures.
This week, a groundswell of major advertisers representing more than $100 million in advertisements has boycotted all Facebook ads for the month of July. Ben & Jerry’s, Birchbox, The Coca-Cola Company, Diageo, Eddie Bauer, The Hershey Company, Honda America, Levi Strauss & Co., Lululemon Magnolia Pictures, The North Face, Patagonia, REI, Starbucks, Unilever, Verizon, and more have all joined the campaign.
Facebook has already announced some concessions in response to the boycott, stating that they will begin affixing warning labels on posts that violate hate speech policies and others, including those of politicians. However, these policies are not retroactive: they will not apply to past posts. Further, Facebook has not yet developed a policy on posts that encourage or threaten state violence, like Trump’s infamous May post.
It is unclear how much farther they intend to go.
For me, this news is both encouraging and discouraging. The last several years have exposed how fraught our social media systems are. Politicans can use them to manipulate and lie to people in ways that would have been unimaginable a few decades ago. Foreign actors can use them to sew discord among entire nations. Social media has had astoundingly destructive consequences for our elections and social discourse. These changes are long overdue.
And yet, after months of sticking to their laissez-faire approach, citing the need to uphold free speech, Facebook now begins to change. It is doing not out of change of heart or reconsideration of their moral responsibility, but simply because their billions of dollars in profit are now threatened. It’s not a surprise of course. But for me, it’s further evidence that we simply cannot put such an important component of our global conversation into the hands of a company who is primarily concerned about itself and its shareholders.
Can we adapt our social media platforms so that they are designed to promote conversation and understanding, rather than simply make more money for Mark Zuckerberg? Or is it time to simply move beyond social media altogether?
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