Facebook has responded to over a hundred companies that have pulled ads from the social network in the past week. The ad boycott is an effort by some of the nation’s most prominent brands, including Coca-Cola and Verizon, to compel Facebook to update its policy regarding hate speech. Facebook has now announced a first step in addressing the issue. New restrictions will ban any ad that implies hate speech or propagates false information about voting.
The Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, the NAACP, and other civil rights organizations launched a boycott on Facebook ads for the month of July. In a little over a week, the cause gained broad traction, attracting over a hundred of the nation’s foremost companies. Facebook is now trying to heed the call to limit the spread of hate speech and misinformation.
But Facebook’s new policy only extends to advertisements. No personal posts will be censored, a concession to those who feared Facebook would try to limit free speech.
The updated policy will prohibit “claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.” Further regulations will combat ads that convey negative sentiments about immigrants and refugees.
The new restrictions will also tackle the spread of misinformation. This includes inaccurate reporting about the coronavirus pandemic, pro-justice protests, and voting information. In the interest of public awareness, the platform will label posts that can’t be verified. Furthermore, any post that discusses voting will be flagged with a link to Facebook’s voting information center.
“Facebook stands for giving people a voice, and that especially means people who have previously not had as much voice, or as much power to share their own experiences,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a lengthy post. He hopes that his company’s efforts would enable users to “ultimately use their voice where it matters most — voting.” Zuckerberg cited the upcoming election and current civil rights movements as motivators for the change.
The world’s largest social media company, which also owns and operates Instagram, has long been accused of dismissing criticism. But Facebook makes about 98% of its profit from advertisers. As a result, the boycott has intensified the pressure to address the spread of hateful or misleading information.
Still, Zuckerberg credits Facebook’s “civil rights auditors,” Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, for shaping the policy update. Additionally, he says that the many of the changes “come directly from feedback from the civil rights community.”
Verizon has joined a growing list of companies pulling advertisements from Facebook. The boycott will span the month of July, in an effort to pressure the social media juggernaut to revise its hate speech policy.
Verizon Joins the Movement
Verizon now joins a growing alliance of companies boycotting Facebook and its subsidiary, Instagram. Recently, outdoor apparel brand Eddie Bauer pledged its commitment to the boycott, as did ice cream brand Ben & Jerry’s. Earlier this month, the founders of the Vermont-based creamery were arrested at a Black Lives Matter protest.
Also among the nearly 100 companies joining the boycott are North Face, Patagonia, Modzilla, REI, and Unilever.
A Cause to Fight Misinformation
The boycott is the result of the #StopHateForProfit campaign. Among the campaign’s organizers are civil rights groups like the NAACP, Color of Change, the Anti-Defamation League, Free Press, Sleeping Giants, and Commons Sense. The movement began just over a week ago.
The campaign is an effort, launched by the Anti-Defamation League, to censure misleading comments by President Trump. Trump has joined other far-right voices in spreading misleading information and hate speech on the world’s largest social network. But unlike Twitter, which has removed doctored videos and tagged certain misleading tweets propagated by President Trump, Facebook has hesitated to respond. Founder and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has faced criticism from both inside and outside his company by people who deem his inaction troubling.
Still, as the general election nears, misinformation on Facebook could present a threat. Fake news campaigns had a tangible effect on the 2016 election. Moreover, as the global pandemic, its ensuing financial crisis and national protests continue to dominate the news cycle, authentic, dependable information is critical. Facebook’s hesitance to remove misleading information is not a neutral position.
John Nitti, Verizon’s Chief Media Officer, said in a statement:
“We have strict content policies in place and have zero tolerance when they are breached, we take action…We’re pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we’ve done with YouTube and other partners.”
Carolyn Everson, Vice President of Facebook’s Global Business Group, said in her statement:
“We respect any brand’s decision, and remain focused on the important work of removing hate speech and providing critical voting information. Our conversations with marketers and civil rights organizations are about how, together, we can be a force for good.”
Accordingly, Facebook has announced some changes since Verizon’s announcement. The company is banning advertisements that could lead to any racial or religious division. The pressure is having an effect.
In 2017, a fire broke out in the Grenfell Tower residential complex in West London. The fire caused 72 deaths and over 70 injuries, the deadliest structural fire in the UK since WWII. After three years, inquiries into the tragedy are set to resume next month.
During this time of increased focus on racial justice due to the death of George Floyd, many believe that the tragedy will come to be understood as an example of racism as the residents were disproportionately black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME). Nour-eddine Aboudihaj, the founder of the Grenfell Tower Trust, has claimed that residents of the tower were made to live in a “death trap. There were a lot of complaints about electricity cuts, gas, all these issues, but they were not listened to. The fact residents were from immigrant or BAME backgrounds means they weren’t listened to and they were treated unfavorably.”
Representative Imran Khan is pushing for a broader concept of racism to be applied to the understanding the tragedy. “That’s what institutional racism is about,” Khan said. “It’s not some individual deliberately doing something in a racist fashion. It’s whether any policies, procedures, acts or conduct directly or indirectly led to consequences.”
Khan’s push for recognition of a broader concept of racism will find sympathetic ears among those who recognize that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately hurt minorities around the world.
For months, White House insiders have reported that the President is growing restless in Washington, and longs to return to the campaign trail. After all, Donald Trump’s political rise was rooted in his freewheeling rallies, where he pontificates at-length about his own strengths, belittles his adversaries and arouses the crowd like a carnival barker.
Now, the White House reports that Trump will return to the trail for the first time since March, when coronavirus restrictions forced him to hunker-down in the executive mansion. Though he was able to maintain an audience for several weeks during his daily live press briefings (which he has since ceased), it’s been three months since the President has been able to stand in front of a raucous crowd of fans who will cheer his name and celebrate his musings. But oh how the world has changed since March.
In addition to the global pandemic and the economic tailspin that continue to plague the nation, the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer fast-tracked the cause of racial justice in the United States, making equality and police reform a top priority not just for the far-left, but for much of the political center. Even Republican Mitt Romney has knelt in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement, and it was only eight years ago that his party wanted him to be president.
So there’s no escaping the conversation of racial justice as Trump prepares to rally his followers on June 19th and while no one can ever predict what this president plans to say, his very schedule has already dropped a bevy of hints.
Time and Place
Foremost, consider the day that President Trump has chosen to resume his reelection campaign. The 19th of June is, for many, a commemoration of the end of slavery. Juneteenth, as it’s called, memorializes the 1865 abolition of slavery in Texas, the final state to receive news of Union victory in the Civil War. While some deem Juneteenth the “Black 4th of July,” there’s little cause to believe that Trump is headed to Tulsa to celebrate the progress of African-Americans.
Then there is the question of where Trump will hold his first rally in months. The President will be heading to Tulsa, Oklahoma to speak to his supporters, a city with a dark history of racial violence, including the deadliest instance of racist brutality in American history. The so-called “Black Wall Street Massacre” occurred in 1921, and resulted in the death of 300 Americans in Tulsa, which at the time had one of the most thriving black middle classes in the country. Dubbed “Black Wall Street” to celebrate the financial providence of its African-American residents, Tulsa was targeted by white supremacists who burned black-owned businesses to the ground and indiscriminately shot at Tulsa residents in a two-day bloodbath.
While the incident has not been a traditional unit of American history classrooms, it’s gained heavy attention in recent years, most notably by the hit HBO series Watchmen, in which the pilot episode depicts a ten-minute reenactment of the violence. But would Trump really choose Tulsa to speak for the first time since George Floyd’s death as an act of intentional malice?
Michelle Goldberg of The New York Times contends that “it’s highly unlikely that Trump, who reportedly didn’t know what happened at Pearl Harbor when he visited in 2017, is familiar with the Tulsa massacre.” Still, she argues, “there are people around Trump who are sophisticated enough to understand the message the rally is sending, including Stephen Miller, one of the president’s closest aides and an out-and-out white nationalist.”
So what calculus is at play behind the choice to resume the Trump campaign in Tulsa on Juneteenth? Florida Congresswoman Val Demings tweeted her response this way: “The president’s speech there on Juneteenth is a message to every black American: more of the same.”
Indeed, Trump does have a pattern of turning the screw on hot-button issues as opposed to deescalating controversy. In 2017, after a white nationalist march in Charlottesville, Virginia resulted in the death of a counter-protester, Trump insisted that there were “very fine people” on both sides of the demonstration (which featured armed Nazis marching past a synagogue). And his first speaking engagement after the episode was in Phoenix, a generally left-leaning city with a large Hispanic population whose mayor begged the President to stay away.
After congressional Democrats launched an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, the President’s first rally was in the Minneapolis district represented by Congresswoman Ilhan Omar, a progressive critic of Trump’s whom the President once told to return to Somalia (where she’d fled as a refugee when she was a child).
In both instances, Trump spoke in states that he had won in the 2016 election, though he spoke in mostly liberal metro areas knowing that his presence would attract protest, media attention, and a signature pinch of chaos.
But if the large-scale public demonstrations that have become ubiquitous in the last few months are any indication, Trump’s return to the campaign trail will likely attract its fair share of protesters. Of course, Trump’s supporters have been just as starved of the President’s voice and it’s unlikely that he will struggle to fill arena seats. Trump may get his pinch of chaos yet.
Still, optics aren’t everything. Even if thousands flock to Tulsa to either support or protest Trump’s rally, it’s what he says that will make a difference. As the national discussion of race continues to overwhelm public discourse, and as Joe Biden continues to lead Trump in national polls, the Tulsa rally may prove to be a defining moment of Trump’s reelection campaign, where he will deliver a message that could shape his entire post-pandemic candidacy.
As more governments move to re-open public life, Uber, the world’s leading ride-hailing app, has announced a variety of new safety precautions to keep drivers and passengers safe from the spread of COVID-19.
Starting Monday, Uber will require all drivers and passengers to wear facial coverings while using the service, and to go through a digital checklist that includes putting on a mask and sanitizing hands.
Uber will use artificial intelligence built into its app to verify that its drivers are complying by the new safety regulations. They will be required to prove that they’re wearing a mask by sending a selfie to the Uber app, and riders will receive a notification to confirm that their driver has complied. Passengers will additionally be asked to sit in the back seat only, and to keep windows open for ventilation.
“It’s important to us that you know what to expect,” Uber said in a statement. “Over the last two months, our tech and safety teams have been hard at work building a new product experience that will help protect everyone, every time they use Uber.”
“Everyone must take proper precautions not only to protect yourself but also the driver and the next person getting in the car after,” added Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshani. “It’s about protecting not only yourself but everyone around you.”
To ensure compliance by all Uber participants, drivers and riders alike are being asked to notify the company if they witness any violations of the safety protocol. Repeat offenders risk having their accounts terminated.
“We are encouraging drivers to cancel trips without penalty if they don’t feel safe, including if the rider isn’t wearing a face cover,” the company said.
As a further commitment to the new health regulations, Uber says it has allocated $50 million for buying masks, disinfectant spray, wipes, hand sanitizer, and gloves for drivers and riders. Uber claims it has already obtained some 23 million masks.
Its leading ride-hailing rival, Lyft, announced similar guidelines this month. Both international companies will apply their rules uniformly in all markets to ensure that safety is a priority for app-users in every region across the world.
Facebook announced Friday that it would be acquiring GIPHY, the leading purveyor of animated GIFs, in a reported $400 million deal. The acquisition envisions a streamlined use of GIFs on Facebook-owned Instagram, where users already enjoy using short animations in GIF form to communicate.
GIPHY is a platform for the creation and sharing of Graphic Interchange Format (GIF) media, which are typically just a few seconds long, and have become an indelible part of meme culture. Invented in the ’80s, GIFs have become ubiquitous in recent years as a way to convey tone and emotion over text-based modes of communication. GIPHY’s vast library includes short, soundless, looped videos that draw from film and television, and are categorized by an exhaustive list of tags. (You can find GIFs that convey happiness, excitement, annoyance…the list is endless).
GIPHY’s library is already accessible on Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, and Instagram Direct Message, where users can search for their desired GIF image, copy it, and paste it into their text-based conversation. And the easy integration of the GIPHY library into a variety of different apps has made it one of the most accessed GIF libraries out there.
Details on The Long-Desired Acquisition
This is not Facebook’s first attempt at acquiring GIPHY. Back in 2015, the social media giant tried to buy-out a young GIPHY, but the start-up declined the offer, opting instead to make deals with a variety of social media platforms and seek to grow its fanbase.
Now, Facebook has succeeded in its purchase, with a stated goal of integrating GIPHY into Instagram “so that people can find just the right way to express themselves.” And while the $400 million price-tag may seem high for a program that was already accessible on Instagram, it makes sense when you consider how many other platforms make use of GIPHY’s library.
Slack, Twitter, and iMessage have all integrated GIPHY into their respective services, and there are no signs that such platforms plan to disassociate from the function now that it’s a Facebook asset. In fact, Facebook hopes that users continue to access GIPHY, regardless of their preferred messaging app.
“People will still be able to upload GIFs,” assured Vishal Shah, Vice President of Product at Instagram. “Developers and API partners will continue to have the same access to GIPHY’s APIs; and GIPHY’s creative community will still be able to create great content.”
Potential Legal Challenge?
While Facebook has recently faced scrutiny by antitrust advocates in Congress, the acquisition of GIPHY is unlikely to trigger any related inquiry, a source familiar with the transaction confided to The Washington Post. Only deals of a certain magnitude would warrant government review.
Still, in February of this year, the Federal Trade Commission revealed it would launch a wide-ranging inquiry into past Facebook acquisitions, as well as similar transactions by other tech giants that have been too small to catch the attention of government watchdogs. In the process, the agency warned that it could unwind those deals it deems to be in violation of antitrust rules.
To this moment, Facebook’s acquisition of GIPHY has garnered no official legal backlash.