Facebook Inc. will tighten its policies against hate speech as the social-media giant grapples with a growing advertiser boycott that gained support Friday from one of the world’s largest consumer brands.
In a video livestreamed over Facebook Friday afternoon, chief executive officer Mark Zuckerberg said the social-media network would start labelling posts that violate its policies against hate speech but that Facebook considers newsworthy enough to remain visible on its platforms. Facebook will also start attaching links to content that discusses voting, including posts by politicians, directing users to a page with authoritative resources about the November U.S. presidential election.
The company also plans to ban ads that include derogatory statements about people based on identifiable categories such as immigration status or sexual orientation, Mr. Zuckerberg said. “The policies that we’re implementing today are designed to address the reality and the challenges that our country is facing and how these challenges are showing up across our platform and our community.”
The changes open the door for Facebook to flag inflammatory posts from U.S. President Donald Trump and other politicians as the social-media firm responds to a mounting backlash over how it polices political speech, including a growing boycott by advertisers.
Hours earlier, Unilever PLC announced it was pulling its ad spending from both Facebook and Twitter for the rest of the year. The consumer-goods giant – whose brands include Dove soap, Lipton tea and Vaseline – cited the “polarized atmosphere in the U.S.,” and urged social-media firms to do more to address hate speech and divisiveness online.
“Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society,” the company said in a statement. It added it would shift the spending it had earmarked for Facebook and Twitter this year to other media companies instead.
Unilever, which spent the equivalent of more than $11-billion on advertising last year, is the largest advertiser to sign on to a Stop Hate for Profit, a global campaign by several U.S. civil-rights groups that calls for companies to pull their spending from Facebook for the month of July.
The Coca-Cola Company said it would pause its advertising on all social-media platforms for at least 30 days starting in July.
“We will take this time to reassess our advertising policies to determine whether revisions are needed,” the company’s chief executive, James Quincey, said in a statement posted on Coca-Cola’s website. “We also expect greater accountability and transparency from our social media partners.”
Telecommunications firm Verizon and the U.S. division of automaker Honda also joined the boycott, which includes Canadian retail co-op MEC and B.C.-based outdoor apparel brand Arc’teryx.
Twitter has not previously been the focus of the boycott. The San Francisco-based tech firm has banned political advertising and raised the ire of Mr. Trump in recent weeks by flagging or removing several of the President’s posts, even as Facebook allowed similar content from Mr. Trump to remain on its platforms.
“We have developed policies and platform capabilities designed to protect and serve the public conversation, and as always, are committed to amplifying voices from underrepresented communities and marginalized groups,” Twitter vice-president of global client solutions Sarah Personette said in an e-mailed statement in response to Unilever’s advertising ban. “We are respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time.”
Advocacy groups who organized the boycott said the changes Mr. Zuckerberg announcement on Friday didn’t go far enough. “Zuckerberg’s address was 11 minutes of wasted opportunity to commit to change,” Rashad Robinson, president of civil-rights non-profit Color of Change, said on Twitter.
The groups have called on Facebook to release more data about the volume of hate speech on its platform and refund companies whose ads appear near posts that contain hateful content or misinformation.
Analysts said Unilever’s decision to pull ad spending from Facebook and Twitter for the remainder of 2020 was particularly significant because the company has power to put considerable pressure on other brands to follow suit. Unilever’s ban is also much broader than the one-month Facebook ban that other advertisers had announced.
“Unilever’s statement cites divisiveness as well as hate speech,” said Nicole Perrin, principal analyst with market research firm eMarketer. “That suggests a deeper problem with user-generated content platforms, as divisiveness is to be expected on any such platform that allows political expression. “
Our Morning Update and Evening Update newsletters are written by Globe editors, giving you a concise summary of the day’s most important headlines. Sign up today.