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Facebook ad boycott sees little participation from Jewish groups

Jewish organizations like the Jewish Federations of North America, HIAS and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum are joining more than 300 companies in a boycott of Facebook advertising. The campaign’s leaders, which include the Anti-Defamation League, describe the boycott as a response to the persistence of hateful content on the platform, including Holocaust denial, xenophobia and conspiracy theories.

“JFNA is not paying for ads on Facebook this month because we are committed to the effort to eliminate hate speech wherever it exists,” said Rebecca Dinar, a spokeswoman for JFNA, the umbrella organization representing Jewish federations.

But other legacy Jewish organizations that advertise on the platform do not appear on the ADL’s list of groups participating in the boycott, such as the American Jewish Committee, the World Jewish Congress, and Combat Anti-Semitism. Those organizations did not respond to requests for comment.

Neither the ADL nor Facebook was able to quantify the number of Jewish organizations that pay to advertise on Facebook or sum up the dollar amount contributed to the platform by Jewish groups.

But individual groups have spent tens of thousands on advertising on Facebook. The AJC, for example, has spent $96,303 since 2018. The WJC has spent $47,913 since 2018. Combat AntiSemitism spent $147,086.

(The Forward occasionally uses Facebook ads to boost content or promote subscriptions, spending about $1,000 so far this year.)

The ADL is only asking businesses to boycott Facebook, because nonprofits might need it to do their work. “Many nonprofits rely on paid ads on Facebook to get their message out,” the ADL wrote on its website. “Without paying, nonprofits fighting for the public interest would get drowned out by paid corporate advertisements.”

Many of the organizations reviewed by the Forward used promoted posts, rather than traditional advertisements that appeared alongside posts or pages.

Companies like Unilever, Coca-Cola, Starbucks and Ford are pausing their advertising on the platform for the month of July (and beyond, in the case of Verizon).

“We have long seen how Facebook has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives. When this hate spreads online it causes tremendous harm and also becomes permissible offline,” ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a recent statement. “They have repeatedly failed to take meaningful action.”

The boycott aims to hit Facebook where it hurts — in the wallet. Advertisers account for more than 98% of its $70 billion in annual revenue. But the vast majority of that ad revenue comes from small businesses, not large companies like Best Buy and Pfizer, which means the impact of the big business boycott might be mostly symbolic. And some skeptics wonder whether companies are just trying to cover up cutbacks in advertising spending due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Still, the campaign has already hurt Facebook in a way that has forced the company to respond.

Its stock price fell about 7% on Friday, which analysts attributed to Verizon’s announcement that it would participate in the boycott. CEO Mark Zuckerberg held a town hall Friday on this subject for clients, and Facebook representatives have been calling advertisers, according to the ADL. Zuckerberg on Wednesday agreed to meet with boycott organizers next week.

Even Prince Harry and his wife Meghan Markle have weighed in, reaching out to the ADL and calling large companies that advertise on Facebook, the New York Times reported.

The ADL has said that while other social media platforms like Reddit and Twitter have recently made changes to remove hate speech, Facebook has been slower to change.

The platform allowed posts that incited violence against anti-racism protesters to remain on Facebook, classified Breitbart News as a “trusted news source” and the Daily Caller a “fact checker” despite their history of working with white nationalists and failed to recognize Holocaust denial as a form of hate, among other shortfalls listed by boycott organizers.

A 2019 ADL survey found that Facebook was the social media platform where most Americans experienced hate and harassment — more than 55% of all respondents said they’d encountered such behavior.

The boycott signatories are asking for regular third-party audits of misinformation on the site, the removal of groups that spread hate, refunds to advertisers like Verizon whose ads were run alongside posts that violated Facebook’s terms of service, and ensuring that victims of harassment are able to get access to live Facebook employees.

More recently, the platform has been criticized for failing to remove content related to the “boogaloo” movement, a pro-Second Amendment faction that anticipates a second Civil War. The “boogaloo bois” have grown more active amid widespread protests related to police brutality against Black people.

The demands on big media companies like Facebook reflect growing pressure to reverse course on their yearslong resistance to deciding what kinds of speech should not be allowed to spread on social media.

Reddit shut down about 2,000 communities from its platform this week for spreading hate speech, including /r/The_Donald, the subreddit devoted to support for President Trump.

Twitter started adding labels to Trump’s tweets last month for spreading misinformation or glorifying violence, and YouTube banned six channels this week for violating its terms of service, including pages belonging to white supremacists David Duke and Richard Spencer.

Facebook, by contrast, has spent the past month defending itself against claims of inaction. On Monday, the platform agreed to an audit by an outside firm, the Media Rating Council, regarding its treatment of hate speech.

It also said it has already removed 400 groups and 100 pages that violated its terms.

“We may never be able to prevent hate from appearing on Facebook entirely, but we are getting better at stopping it all the time,” the company said in a statement.

Molly Boigon is an investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at [email protected] or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon.


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