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Unilever joins Facebook boycott over hate speech concerns

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By Pascale Davies  & AFP
The social media giant said it was taking action against hate speech.
The social media giant said it was taking action against hate speech.   -   Copyright  Tony Avelar/Copyright 2019 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

Anglo-Dutch consumer company Unilever said on Friday it would stop advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram in the US until the end of the year, citing concerns of hate speech in the run up to the presidential election. 

The decision comes as scores of companies join a boycott of the social media giant.

Telecoms group Verizon, sports brands Patagonia, North Face and REI, as well as the freelance staffing agency Upwork, have also said they would pause advertising on Facebook.

"We have taken the decision to stop advertising on @Facebook , @Instagram & @Twitter in the US," Unilever said in a post on Twitter.

"The polarized atmosphere places an increased responsibility on brands to build a trusted & safe digital ecosystem. Our action starts now until the end of 2020."

A Unilever spokeswoman told AFP the company had committed to engage with internet companies "but there is much more to be done, especially in the areas of divisiveness and hate speech during this polarized election period in the U.S."

Toby Talbot/AP2010
Unilever is a major advertiser on social media in the US.Toby Talbot/AP2010

Unilever, whose brands include Ben and Jerry's and Marmite, is a major advertiser on social media in the US. 

Facebook said on Friday it was taking action against hate speech, adding that it had already banned 250 white supremacist groups and said more work still needed to be done. 

"We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and continuously work with outside experts to review and update our policies," Facebook said in a statement.

"We know we have more work to do, and we'll continue to work with civil rights groups."

How did the boycott start?

Facebook has come under fire for its hands-off approach to misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly after it did not remove a post by US President Donald Trump, who said  “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”, in reference to the protests after George Floyd's death in May.

Twitter did, however, take down the post. 

In response, activist groups and the Anti-Defamation League launched a boycott of Facebook last week under the hashtag #StopHateForProfit, which urged companies to halt advertising during July.