Column: Facebook has failed to control hate speech. Will advertiser demands change anything?

Michael Hiltzik, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Jonathan Greenblatt, the chief executive and national director of the Anti-Defamation League, was not all that optimistic in advance of the online meeting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg had set up with him and the heads of other civil rights groups last Tuesday.

Many of them had been talking to Facebook about its tolerance of hate groups and racist and anti-Semitic postings on the giant social media company's website.

They had submitted 10 recommendations they said could result immediately in "real progress." Facebook had stated that it takes "a zero tolerance approach" to hateful posts on its services by removing them.

Yet the very morning of the meeting, ADL's researchers turned up a posting on Facebook from a group headed "Exposing the Rothschilds," which was "filled with grotesque anti-Semitic conspiracies," Greenblatt told me.

"They were the kind that motivated Robert Bowers to shoot up the synagogue in Pittsburgh, the kind that motivated the shooter in Poway," Greenblatt says.

(He was referring to the October 2018 massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in which Bowers is charged with killing 11 people and wounding six, and the April 2019 rampage at a synagogue in a San Diego suburb in which John T. Earnest is accused of killing one person and wounding three others. Bowers and Earnest are both awaiting trial and face the death penalty.)


"The group had 133,000 members, right out there in the open," Greenblatt says. Things only got more dispiriting that day, as Zuckerberg and Sandberg essentially fobbed the group off with what they considered to be empty promises to take their concerns under advisement.

"We thought we'd talk about commitments and timetables" for implementing the recommendations, he says. "We didn't get anything of the sort."

That's a bad look for Facebook, coming at an especially delicate moment for the $71 billion company.

Companies ranging from small businesses to some of its largest corporate clients have suspended their advertising on Facebook sites for the month of July in response to a boycott campaign initiated by civil rights groups, including the ADL.


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