On Tuesday morning, Facebook's COO Sheryl Sandberg announced that the company's top leadership, including Mark Zuckerberg, would meet with prominent civil rights leaders as well as members of the Stop Hate For Profit campaign in order to brainstorm methods for hate speech policy on the platform.
Following the meeting, Engadget reports little came of it, and the campaign organizers left disappointed, and the boycott will continue.
“#StopHateForProfit didn’t hear anything today to convince us that Zuckerberg and his colleagues are taking action,” Jessica Gonzalez, Co-CEO of Free Press, one of the organizations behind the campaign, said in a statement. "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. This isn’t over. We will continue to expand the boycott until Facebook takes our demands seriously."
A pointless meeting — The decision to meet with campaign organizers arrived shortly after multiple companies pulled their advertising on Facebook, including PlayStation, Lego, Canadian banks like Scotiabank, RBC, CIBC, BMO, and National Bank, Target, Microsoft, Unilever, Verizon, Pfizer, Patagonia, North Face, Levi's, Puma, Madewell, Hershey, and hundreds more. It's a financial wound and a gaping one at that.
"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 said in her post on Tuesday morning ahead of the meeting. "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."
Those are the right noises to make, to be sure, but in typical Facebook form, it's just talk. The company got to this point because it continues to enable dangerous rhetoric — which is something Zuckerberg continues to overlook — but at the end of the day, Facebook is desperately trying to save itself from a boycott that is set to cost it billions and billions of dollars. As usual, it's only the fear of financial repercussions that have spurred it to action.
Contradicting Zuckerberg — It was only last week that Zuckerberg spoke in a town hall meeting about his lack of concern for the longterm effects of the boycott. "My guess is that all these advertisers will be back on the platform soon enough," he said, adding that the company is "not going to change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue." That's typical of Zuckerberg's hubris but doesn't align with Sandberg's comments this morning. It does, however, align perfectly with the experience reported by attendees of today's meeting.
Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change described the meeting in a tweet as "a disappointment," adding that Facebook's leadership "made it abundantly clear that they are not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform."
You can't have it both ways — Publicly, Facebook is using language and sound bites that are crafted to calm legitimately worried people. Internally, however, Facebook's leadership seems more inclined toward maintaining and even hardening its speech policy that has, time and again, enabled division, polarization, and bigotry. From pro-civil war Boogaloo adherents to Donald Trump himself openly supporting physical violence against protesters, Zuckerberg's platform seems almost perfectly designed to promote unhinged content without concern for its potential, real-world effects.
Civil rights audit, too — The company is expected to release a civil rights audit on Wednesday, too. The review spans over two years of Facebook's management of speech policies and practices. It's hard to imagine there'll be any progress after this meeting, but one thing is crystal-clear: Facebook is hurting and it's trying everything in its power to get advertisers back on board.