CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced Friday steps Facebook is taking to protect the vote in the run-up to election day, including a more aggressive effort to combat voter suppression based on race and ethnicity — moves that come as the company is facing an advertising boycott led by a coalition of civil rights groups and progressive activists.
The changes, which include banning posts about immigration officials checking papers at voting places and ramping up their ability to enforce false claims about voting in the 72 hours before election day, reflect, Zuckerberg said, the recommendations of its pre-existing civil-rights audit committee.
He said the changes come in the context of the 2020 elections in the U.S. that were “already shaping up to be heated — and that was before we all faced the additional complexities of voting during a pandemic and protests for racial justice across the country.”
The significance of what Zuck said: The changes have been in the works for months, Zuckerberg said, and he previewed some of them in May. But there’s no arguing that their announcement comes at a useful time for Facebook. Complaints about its civil-rights record have been building for years, and recently reached a fever pitch around Facebook’s decision in late May to leave up a post by President Trump that used the racially charged phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to discuss Black Lives Matter protesters.
Recently, those complaints coalesced into an attempt by major civil rights organizations like the NAACP and progressive activists like the group Sleeping Giants to convince advertisers to boycott Facebook for the month of July. After a slow start, that effort seemed to gain traction this week. The multinational consumer product giant Unilever announced hours before Zuckerberg’s remarks that it was stopping advertising on both Facebook and Twitter through the end of the year. Others who are temporarily pulling ads include wireless carrier Verizon, ice cream maker Ben & Jerry’s and clothier Eddie Bauer.
The significance of where he said it: Zuckerberg opened up his regular employee townhall to the public to announce the changes — reflecting his new willingness to throw the company, and himself, into the mix on the country’s most controversial debates.
What’s next: Boycott organizers have set July 1, or five days from now, as a kick-off point for advertisers to pause its use of Facebook. The question becomes whether Facebook’s moves today and in the next week do anything to slow its momentum.
The president of one of the groups behind the boycott, Color of Change’s Rashad Robinson, said quickly after Zuckerberg wrapped that his announcement had changed little. “Zuckerberg’s address was 11 minutes of wasted opportunity to commit to change,” tweeted Robinson. “I hope companies advertising on Facebook were watching – if they want to put their money where their mouth is on racial justice, then it’s time to #StopHateForProfit,” he added, using the hashtag for the boycott campaign.
Robinson’s tweet is particularly eye-catching because he has been in close contact with Facebook over the years, including a sit-down dinner at Zuckerberg’s house in November of 2019. Its sharpness reflects that he and at least some other civil-rights leaders have shifted their strategy when it comes to dealing with Facebook. If they haven’t fully given up on dialogue, they’re at least pairing it now with treating the company as something akin to a political opponent.
That said, at the moment, Facebook’s most immediate worry is advertisers. Facebook’s revenue depends nearly entirely on advertising, so the reaction to keep on eye on now: the results of the quiet conversations happening among CEOs, chief marketing officers and other corporate executives about what they’re thinking about Facebook.