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A figure depicting hate speech at Facebook is pictured during the 'Rosenmontag' (Rose Monday) parade in Duesseldorf, Germany in this file photo from Feb. 24, 2020.

Thilo Schmuelgen/Reuters

Canada’s major banks have resumed buying ads on Facebook after halting spending in July in an effort to press the social-media company to do more to stamp out hate speech and misinformation on its sites.

The decision to pause all paid advertising on Facebook Inc.’s sites, including Instagram, for a month put Canada’s largest banks in step with an international business boycott led by the Anti-Defamation League and other U.S. civil-rights groups, which enlisted hundreds of companies to put pressure on the social-media giant.

Each of Canada’s five largest banks have now restarted their advertising with Facebook, though it remains unclear what changes the boycott may have won from the tech giant. The loss of one month of advertising from Canadian banks was unlikely to have a meaningful financial impact for Facebook. Experts estimate the banks might spend hundreds of thousands of dollars each in a given month, while Facebook just reported nearly US$5.2-billion in second-quarter profit, up 98 per cent from a year earlier.

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Rather, the pause was designed to send a public message that advertisers expect Facebook to mount a more robust response to racist and hateful content, as a wave of protests around the world have created a global reckoning over issues of systemic racism.

Royal Bank of Canada has restarted some ad campaigns on Facebook and Instagram, according to spokesperson AJ Goodman. “Since pausing paid media in July, we have held constructive discussions with Facebook and have seen some progress,” he said in an e-mail, but he declined to give details of that progress.

Toronto-Dominion Bank also confirmed it resumed placing paid content on Facebook and Instagram this week. “TD is committed to the fight against racism and hate speech and will continue to monitor their response to this critical issue,” spokesperson Heather Reinsborough said in an e-mail.

Bank of Nova Scotia, Bank of Montreal and Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce all have active ads running on Facebook, most of which launched on Aug. 4, according to data from Facebook’s ad library.

Spokespeople for BMO and CIBC declined to comment, and Scotiabank did not respond to requests for comment.

In a July 30 blog post, Facebook summarized the efforts it has made to combat hate speech, including investments in having both people and artificial intelligence review and remove offensive content from its sites. The boycott’s organizers credited their campaign with successfully pressing Facebook to publicly release an internal civil-rights audit, commit to hiring a senior executive in charge of civil rights, and announce plans to launch a team to study racial bias in its algorithms.

The list of big-name brands that pulled their Facebook ads in July included Canadian companies such as athletic wear company Lululemon Athletica Inc. and outdoor retailer Mountain Equipment Co-op (MEC), as well as consumer-goods giant Unilever PLC and beverage-maker The Coca-Cola Co. MEC, Coca-Cola and New Brunswick-based Moosehead Breweries Ltd. are continuing to withhold ad spending, but many others, including Lululemon, have restarted their ads.

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An unsigned statement from organizers of the #StopHateForProfit campaign said companies had collectively pulled millions of dollars in ads from Facebook and Instagram, and that July’s ad pause “was not a full campaign – it was a warning shot across Facebook’s bow.” The statement also said that Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg “has not yet approached the type of meaningful action that we want to see.”

Mr. Zuckerberg pledged in late June that Facebook would tighten its policies against hate speech, before the July ad pause began. But he also reportedly told Facebook employees at a private town hall that he expected advertisers joining the boycott “will be back on the platform soon enough,” according to a report from The Information, a news site that covers the tech industry.

Facebook Canada recently announced a five-year, $500,000 partnership with Ontario Tech University’s Centre on Hate, Bias and Extremism to advance the centre’s research on violent extremism.

With a report from Tamsin McMahon and The Canadian Press

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