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Sheryl Sandberg says Facebook is making changes to fight hate speech—but not because of ad boycott

Despite saying it’s because it’s “the right thing to do,” Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg are meeting with Stop Hate for Profit leaders.

Sheryl Sandberg says Facebook is making changes to fight hate speech—but not because of ad boycott
[Photo: Matt Winkelmeyer/Getty Images for Vanity Fair]

On June 17, civil rights groups such as the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League, as well as Color of Change, Free Press, Common Sense, and Sleeping Giants, launched the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, calling for a boycott of Facebook advertising to force the platform to stem the sheer amount of hate speech and divisive content on the platform and halt its long-standing tolerance of problematic posts by President Trump and his campaign.

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Now, almost three weeks and many major advertisers joining the boycott later, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg released a statement this morning on the matter. In a long Facebook post, Sandberg said, “We are making changes—not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do.”

Facebook stands firmly against hate. Being a platform where everyone can make their voice heard is core to our mission,…

Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday, July 7, 2020

“We have clear policies against hate–and we strive constantly to get better and faster at enforcing them,” she wrote. “We have made real progress over the years, but this work is never finished and we know what a big responsibility Facebook has to get better at finding and removing hateful content.”

Today, Sandberg, Zuckerberg, and other execs are meeting with Stop Hate for Profit organizers, as well as Vanita Gupta from the Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights and Sherrilyn Ifill from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund.

This statement also comes a day ahead of the final report of Facebook’s independent civil rights audit, a two-year review of company policies and practices led by civil liberties and civil rights expert Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, a partner in the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax.

“We are the first social media company to undertake an audit of this kind,” wrote Sandberg. “This two-year journey has had a profound effect on our culture and the way we think about our impact on the world. While the audit was planned and most of it carried out long before recent events, its release couldn’t come at a more important time. It has helped us learn a lot about what we could do better, and we have put many recommendations from the auditors and the wider civil rights community into practice.”

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While brand partners such as Unilever, Adidas, Ford, Lego, and many more have moved to stop advertising on Facebook until it makes a greater effort to stop hate and misinformation on its platform, Sandberg was defiant on the company’s record.

“We have worked for years to try to minimize the presence of hate on our platform,” she wrote. “That’s why we agreed to undertake the civil rights audit two years ago. Over many years, we’ve spent billions of dollars on teams and technology to find and remove hate—as well as protect the integrity of our platform more generally—and have become a pioneer in using artificial intelligence technology to remove hateful content at scale. We are working hard every day to enforce our policies with ever greater precision and speed.”

Despite that defiance, it’s clear the Stop Hate for Profit campaign—and the threat it could go beyond July—has had a PR impact on Facebook. This statement, and the meetings called for today, are an obvious effort to counter all that negativity. And the company will no doubt use the findings of its civil rights audit to do more of the same. Then it will publish its annual Diversity and Inclusion report, what Sandberg calls “an update on how we are making our workforce more representative of the global community we serve.”

According to last year’s report, the company’s percentage of female employees increased from 36.3% in 2018 to 36.9% in 2019, while Black and Latinx workers combined were 9%, up from 8.4% in 2018. These less than impressive results forced Facebook to commit to doubling its female employee count globally, and U.S. Black and Latinx employees, by 2024.

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About the author

Jeff Beer is a staff editor at Fast Company, covering advertising, marketing, and brand creativity. He lives in Toronto.

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