Facebook's CEO and COO, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg, "expect[ed] an A for attendance" just for agreeing to meet directly with civil rights groups that have spurred a massive boycott by major advertisers, according to one meeting attendee. But the Tuesday meeting seems to have only pissed off the groups more, and they've gone straight to the media to decry the fact that Facebook isn't meeting their demands.
Zuckerberg and Sandberg had the Zoom conference call today with representatives from the Anti-Defamation League, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and Color of Change, as the New York Times reports. And the meeting was an effort to mollify the groups which in the last several weeks have earned the support of major advertisers like Unilever, Addidas, Best Buy, and Proctor & Gamble as part of a boycott movement called #StopHateForProfit.
The groups are collectively demanding that the company submit to regular audits with regards to civil rights, that it hire "a C-Suite level executive with civil-rights expertise to evaluate company products and policies with regard to discrimination, bias and hate," and that it update its "community standards" to be in line with those suggested by the nonprofit group Change the Terms, which combats online hate.
Jessica J. González, the CEO of the Free Press advocacy group, issued a statement following the meeting expressing her displeasure.
"#StopHateForProfit didn’t hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action," González said. "Instead of committing to a timeline to root out hate and disinformation on Facebook, the company’s leaders delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands."
"I was hoping to see deep humility and reflection about the outsized role that Facebook plays in shaping beliefs, opinions and behavior," she continued. "Instead we saw more dialogue and no action."
Another person on the call, Rashad Robinson of Color of Change, tells the Times, "They showed up to the meeting expecting an A for attendance. Attending alone is not enough."
The Times notes that "Facebook executives have taken an increasingly conciliatory tone as the boycott has grown," and on Wednesday the company will release the final piece of "a yearslong audit of its civil rights policies and practices."
But perhaps, despite a little desperation in Zuckerberg's eyes when he delivered a public address on June 26 about changing company policies around politicians' misinformation, and hate speech in general, he's not especially worried about the company's future right now.
Facebook has eight million advertisers, and large companies do not make up the bulk of those who harness the platform to target users with their products. And while investors appear to have been spooked about the ad boycott in the last two weeks, Facebook's stock price was back up today to where it was when the boycott began around June 23. It's also well above where the stock price was in early January — around $240 today vs. $215 six months ago, with a big dip along with the rest of the market when the pandemic began.
Today, the groups say they are done taking Facebook's word, or its policies at face value — saying they are often "unenforced or underenforced." Indeed, Facebook has for years said that white supremacist and white nationalist language was not tolerated on the platform, and yet civil rights groups continue to find examples of hate speech being amplified on Facebook in various forms.
"Today I can log into Facebook and find groups that are dedicated to restoring symbols of the Confederacy and the violence and bigotry they represent, and Islamophobia still has a home in both private and public Facebook groups," González says.
"This isn’t the first time our organizations have asked Facebook to clean up its act," González adds. "We’ve seen over and over again how it will do anything to duck accountability by firing up its powerful PR machine and trying to spin the news. We stand with truth and justice, and have been through this enough times to know when Facebook is trying to play us."