Column: Facebook — This is one boycott I am all in on

Hit the social media monster where it hurts, in the wallet

By David Zurawik

The Baltimore Sun

July 1 is not a date Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is likely to forget anytime soon.

Some of the most iconic and biggest spending brands in American life, including Coca-Cola, The Hershey Company and Ford Motor Company, have joined a call for the suspension of advertising on Facebook this month. From Adidas to Verizon, many of the brands you see every night advertising on TV have signed on, according to a list at the boycott’s website.

The action was called last month by a civil rights coalition that includes the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) the NAACP and Color of Change.

“We asked companies to act against hate and disinformation being spread by Facebook in our campaign, Stop Hate for Profit,” the group says on its website, stophateforprofit.org. “We asked businesses to temporarily pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram in order to force Mark Zuckerberg to address the effect that Facebook has had on our society.” (Facebook owns Instagram.)

Hate, disinformation and the effect Facebook has had on our society. Amen. This is a righteous and much needed campaign. I hope it succeeds where other attempts in recent years to criticize, shame, expose or beg Mr. Zuckerberg to be more socially responsible have failed.

For most of my professional life, I have been against boycotts of media companies.

But then came Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook. I started regularly blasting away at the social media giant following the presidential election of 2016 when I saw how Mr. Trump’s campaign used Facebook for lies and potentially libelous content they could never get on TV.

Reporting by Frontline on PBS chronicled how Facebook had allowed highly personal data it held from members to be sold to the political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica for use in targeting voters on behalf of Mr. Trump. Congressional hearings in 2017 revealed how Facebook had carried ads paid for in rubles that sought to exploit racial tension in Baltimore with disinformation following the death of Freddie Gray in 2015. Rubles! And Team Zuckerberg saw nothing suspicious about that.

After that, I was all for almost anything that could rein in the titans of Silicon Valley like Mr. Zuckerberg, who revolutionized media technologically before we had a chance to figure out ethically and legally how the digital content machines could be used for the enlightenment rather than exploitation of its users.

Mr. Zuckerberg has repeatedly defended his irresponsible management of Facebook with intellectually dishonest arguments.

Take his long-held position that he merely managed a platform where information was placed by others, so he wasn’t an actual publisher with the responsibility that someone who publishes a newspaper would have. How convenient — and disingenuous. Ask yourself how you would feel if you went into your local grocery store and saw a racial epithet on the bulletin board where help wanted and babysitting ads are placed. Wouldn’t you hold the manager of that store and the company that owns it responsible for policing that board and not allowing such speech to be put there — let alone remain?

Nick Clegg, vice president for global affairs and communication, defended the company on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” Sunday saying, “I sometimes hear folks imply somehow that Facebook or social media in general is awash in hate. And, yes, there are hateful people in the world … But, thankfully, the vast, vast, vast majority of content on Facebook is positive, is useful, is joyful, is sometimes playful. It’s the local business reaching local clients. It’s the dad running the Facebook group for his daughter’s football team.”

To some extent, he’s right. But that is absolutely no excuse for not diligently policing the disinformation from Russian operatives, the videos from hate groups or the lies and smears from politicians like Mr. Trump — as small a portion of overall content as that might be.

In fact, that steady stream of familiar, friendly, local content from friends and family is what makes the political lies, propaganda, divisive content and hate speech all the more dangerous. Because it comes wrapped in that trustworthy, safe flow of more personal information from friends, you receive the hateful and dishonest content with your guard down, so to speak, and are more receptive to it.

Mr. Zuckerberg’s history shows him to be someone only concerned about profits.

So, go for it, #StopHateforProfit. Hit him and his social media monster where it hurts — in his profit margin. Hit as hard as you can and then some.

David Zurawik is The Sun’s media critic. Email: david.zurawik@baltsun.com; Twitter: @davidzurawik. (312-222-4194):

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