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Facebook Boycott Organizer Blasts Zuckerberg For 'Lecturing' On Freedom Of Expression

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, has critiqued Facebook for its "arrogant" tone and unwillingness to monitor hate speech.

Ahead of a meeting with Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, the head of one of the groups calling for an advertising boycott on Facebook has spoken out against the social media CEO’s “arrogant” resistance toward monitoring harmful content on the platform.

In an interview with The Guardian, Rashad Robinson, president of the nonprofit civil rights group Color of Change, said that Zuckerberg had “thumbed his nose at social justice organizations.” 

According to Robinson, this attitude led Color of Change and similar advocacy groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, to form Stop Hate for Profit, a campaign that is calling for brands to pull Facebook ads for the month of July. Companies currently participating in the initiative include Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, The North Face, Unilever and Verizon (HuffPost’s parent company). The Coca-Cola Company and Starbucks were among other companies that did not formally announce their support of Stop Hate for Profit, but said they were going to pause advertising efforts on all social platforms — not merely Facebook. 

“What we have done ... is to go directly to big advertisers who also have not been able to get changes from the platform: advertisers who see their ads on Facebook showing up next to white supremacist and white nationalist content and who have watched as Mark Zuckerberg has seen himself as too powerful to have to listen,” Robinson said. “I think it’s hitting their pockets and hitting their stock prices. To be clear, it’s not really hitting its bottom line because of how insulated the model is. But I do think that the cultural significance of so many big brands stepping away is huge.”

Robinson went on to say that he was expecting to confront Zuckerberg on remarks the Facebook CEO had privately made, dismissing the boycott and stating that “all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough.”

“Facebook needs civil rights expertise in their C suite. They continue to make policy and products without any kind of understanding of voter suppression, of suppression of voices,” Robinson said. “Mark Zuckerberg spends his time lecturing us on freedom of expression. It’s such an arrogant thing for a billionaire to tell Black activists about freedom of expression, as if the fight for social change and progress that Black people have isn’t one of the baselines of freedom of expression.”

Robinson’s remarks coincided with a memo from the Democratic National Committee that accused Facebook of “underdeveloped and unevenly applied policies,” as well as a failure to live up to promises the company made after the 2016 election, including efforts to limit extremist content and institute fact-checking measures. 

In a Facebook post also published on Tuesday, company COO Sheryl Sandberg said the company’s leaders firmly stood against hate speech, were looking forward to meeting with Robinson and the other organizers of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, and had committed to making change “not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do.”

“We meet in the context of what may be the largest social movement in US history, and our nation’s best and latest chance to act against the racism that has pervaded our country since before our independence,” Sandberg wrote. “It’s a big moment for all of us, especially now. Much more than words, people, organizations and companies need to take action – and we at Facebook know what a big responsibility we have.”

Sandberg also stressed that an independent civil rights audit of the company would be published on Wednesday, stating that Facebook was “the first social media company to undertake an audit of this kind.”

Shortly after Sandberg’s remarks went public, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt argued that the release of the audit was far from a “good-faith effort,” and that the company was “shoehorning it in, accelerating its release, timed with [the] meeting today.”

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