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Facebook will bar more hateful content in ads as boycott picks up steam

The company will also start labeling some posts that violate its rules but are left up because of newsworthiness.

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- 04:23
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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg livestreamed an internal town hall on Friday. 

Screenshot by Queenie Wong/CNET

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Friday that the social network will start labeling content it finds newsworthy but would violate its rules. Facebook will also bar a wider category of hateful content in ads, a move that comes as Coca-Cola, Honda and other major brands pull ads from the social network in protest. 

The social network's labeling doesn't apply to content that suppresses voting or incites violence, which Facebook said it will remove even if it comes from politicians. Twitter, a rival social network, has been adding notices to tweets from President Donald Trump that it says run afoul of its rules about glorifying violence. 

Facebook will also bar ads that contain claims that people of certain racial groups or ethnicities are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of anyone else. It's also prohibiting ads that express contempt, dismissal or disgust of immigrants and refugees or suggest they're somehow inferior.

"We want to do more here to prohibit the kind of divisive and inflammatory rhetoric that has been used to sow discord," Zuckerberg said in an internal town hall that was livestreamed on Facebook. 

With posts about voting, including from politicians, the company will start attaching links that direct users to Facebook's new Voting Information Center. The links will help Facebook tackle trickier posts in which it's unclear if the user is trying to suppress voting, such as with claims that a city has been identified as a COVID-19 hotspot. "This isn't a judgment of whether the posts themselves are accurate, but we want people to have access to authoritative information either way," Zuckerberg said. Facebook said it will also ban posts that make false claims that US Immigration and Customs Enforcement agents are checking for immigration papers at polling places, as well as coordinated threats that interfere with voting. 

Facebook doesn't send posts and ads from politicians to fact-checkers, a policy that's drawn criticism from lawmakers, advocacy groups and its own employees. The new changes don't completely address how Facebook has interpreted its rules when it comes to controversial posts by Trump. In May, Twitter labeled two tweets from Trump that contained false claims about mail-in ballots, but Facebook didn't take any action against those same posts on its social network. Facebook determined that Trump was engaging in a political debate about mail-in voting, not directly discouraging people from voting. 

Twitter also added a notice to a Trump tweet in which he responded to the protests over the police killing of George Floyd by saying "when the looting starts, the shooting starts." Twitter determined the post violated its rules against glorifying violence, but Facebook said the remark didn't violate its policies because Trump referenced the National Guard so the company read it as warning about the use of state force. 

Facebook has been under pressure from advertisers to do more to combat misinformation and hate speech. The Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Colors of Change, Free Press and Common Sense are calling on businesses to stop buying ads on Facebook for the month of July. The groups say that doing so will put pressure on Facebook to use its $70 billion in annual advertising revenue to support people who are targets of racism and hate and to increase safety for private groups on the site.

Consumer goods giant Unilever, telecommunications company Verizon, beverage giant Coca-Cola, ice cream brand Ben & Jerry's (owned by Unilever) and outdoor clothing brand The North Face are among major companies and brands that've joined the #StopHateforProfit campaign. 

Despite Facebook's efforts to combat hate speech, civil rights advocates say the company has allowed content that could incite violence against protesters who are fighting for racial justice in the wake of the deaths of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks.

The ADL says nearly 100 brands have joined the boycott. The groups are asking Facebook to make changes, including creating a separate moderation pipeline for hate speech, allowing some people who've been targeted with harassment or hate to talk to a live Facebook representative, and telling advertisers how often their content was shown next to posts that Facebook removed for misinformation or hate speech. 

In a response posted on its website, the #StopHateforProfit campaign said Facebook's changes were insufficient.

"We have been down this road before with Facebook. They have made apologies in the past," the statement said. "They have taken meager steps after each catastrophe where their platform played a part. But this has to end now."

Zuckerberg's remarks also didn't appear to slow down the ad boycott. After the livestream on Friday, Coca-Cola said it would pause advertising on all social media platforms for at least 30 days.

"There is no place for racism in the world and there is no place for racism on social media," James Quincey, chairman and CEO of The Coca-Cola Company, said in a statement.

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