A global advertiser revolt over Facebook’s failure to address hate speech and fake news has intensified in the past few days, forcing the social media giant and the world at large to confront uncomfortable questions that civil society and consumers have been demanding answers to for a long time.
Who regulates and oversees social media globally? Why have tech companies such as Facebook and Twitter been allowed to freely profit from hate-mongering for so long?
On Sunday, Starbucks became the latest company on the list to pause advertisement across all social media platforms — joining the likes of Unilever, Coca Cola, Verizon and REI to stop buying ads on the world’s largest social media platform.
Where swelling public anger has failed to work, corporate pressure seems to have proven more effective in halting these merchants of hate: Facebook said it will start labelling potentially harmful posts, after the boycott wiped out $56 billion of its market capitalisation
The “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign says Facebook makes $70 billion in annual advertising revenue while “amplifying the messages of white supremacists” and “permitting incitement to violence.” With the brutal police custody death of George Floyd fresh in public memory, such examples are not difficult to seek.
Facebook made Breitbart News a “trusted news source” despite its history of working with neo-Nazis and actively helped spread discrimination against communities of colour in the US.
Promoting fake news
In India, violent mobs have been unleashed on innocent people — mostly Muslims — on the basis of fake news manufactured by right-wing Hindu groups and spread through social media, in killings that have come to be known as WhatsApp lynchings.
This brutal violence is therefore no longer restricted to armchair hatred — the deliberately irresponsible actions of Mark Zuckerberg, Jack Dorsey and their ilk in the guise of free speech are now killing people.
But where swelling public anger has failed to work, corporate pressure seems to have proven more effective in halting these merchants of hate: Facebook said it will start labelling potentially harmful posts, after the boycott wiped out $56 billion of its market capitalisation.
Such knee-jerk tokenism is no longer enough.
There must be a comprehensive reassessment of what Facebook is and how it operates — is it a media company, a telecom service provider or a data miner? Most of the revenue that Facebook makes is by cannibalising the hard-earned ad spend of traditional media companies — which has crippled the global publishing industry.
Apart from publicly cracking down on hate speech, Facebook must also stop earning money from harmful content. There must be professional oversight of social media giants to ensure they are neither peddling hate nor acting as unilateral juries of free speech.
A 140-country negotiation driven by OECD for a global digital tax on such companies must end in an agreement soon.
A combination of all these measures might finally manage to bring some credibility and accountability for social media networks — otherwise history will always remember them as harbingers of hate with the blood of humanity on their hands.