North Face, REI join Facebook ad boycott organized by civil rights groups

Outdoor goods retailers North Face and REI sign up for the #StopHateforProfit campaign.

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A pair of major outdoor-goods retailers have joined a boycott of Facebook after six civil rights groups called on businesses to stop advertising on Facebook in July to push the social network to do more to combat hate speech and misinformation

On Friday, outdoor-clothing brand The North Face announced on Twitter that it's joining the #StopHateforProfit campaign. "We're in. We're Out @Facebook #StopHateForProfit," the company said in a tweet.

Another major outdoor-products seller, Recreational Equipment Inc., better known as REI, also joined. "For 82 years, we have put people over profits. We're pulling all Facebook/Instagram advertising for the month of July. #StopHateForProfit," REI tweeted later on Friday.

The moves by the high-profile brands suggest the ad boycott, unveiled Wednesday, is beginning to gain traction. In addition to the two retailers, digital-advertising firm 360i urged its clients in an email to stop purchasing ads on Facebook in July, The Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.

The Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP, Sleeping Giants, Colors of Change, Free Press and Common Sense say that boycotting advertising on Facebook will put pressure on the platform 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. 

"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," Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said in a press release announcing the campaign. "Our organizations have tried individually and collectively to push Facebook to make their platforms safer, but they have repeatedly failed to take meaningful action. We hope this campaign finally shows Facebook how much their users and their advertisers want them to make serious changes for the better."

More than 55 percent of Facebook users reported experiencing hate and harassment on the platform, according to the ADL's survey of Americans using social media.

The rights groups say Facebook has allowed content that could incite violence against protesters who are fighting for racial justice in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks. Facebook faced criticism for not removing a protest-related post by President Donald Trump that advocacy groups and even the company's own employees said could incite violence. Trump included the controversial phrase "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" in the social media post. Twitter obscured Trump's tweet with a notice that says the post violates its rules against "glorifying violence" but that also includes a button that lets users click through to read the tweet. Facebook didn't take action against Trump's post because the company determined it didn't violate its rules.

Facebook also included Breitbart News, a far-right site, as a "trusted" source in its news service, and right-wing news and opinion site The Daily Caller is one of the company's fact-checking partners. Facebook didn't take action against misinformation from Trump about mail-in ballots, and the groups say the social network has "turned a blind eye to blatant voter suppression."

Sending Facebook a message

"Let's send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence," the StopHateforProfit campaign's website says. The groups' list of recommendations for Facebook include creating a separate "moderation pipeline" for hate speech; allowing users who've been targeted with hate or harassment to speak directly to a Facebook employee; and removing all ads that contain hate speech or misinformation.

In a press call Wednesday, Facebook Vice President of Global Affairs and Communications Nick Clegg said the company doesn't allow hate speech on its platform. Facebook removed nearly 10 million posts for violating its rules against hate speech in the last quarter, he said, and most were taken down before users reported them. The social network relies on a mix of human reviewers and technology to moderate content, but detecting hate speech can be challenging because machines have to understand the cultural context of words. 

"Of course, we would like to do even better than that," Clegg said. "We need to do more. We need to move faster, but we are making significant progress."

Trump's false claims about mail-in ballots didn't violate the company's rules against voter suppression because his comments were directed at state authorities and he was engaged in a debate about mail-in voting, as opposed to discouraging people from voting, Clegg said.

The campaign to boycott Facebook advertising came a day after the company announced it would allow some users in the US to turn off political advertising. The social network is also trying to help 4 million people register to vote and launched a new online hub for voter information.

CNET's Stephen Shankland contributed to this report.

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