Facebook 'Making Changes' but Not Due to Ad Pressure, Sheryl Sandberg Says

A top Facebook executive has said the social network is making changes to how it tackles hateful content—but not due to advertising pressure.

Speaking amid a widespread boycott campaign attempting to impact the tech giant's bottom line, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg conceded that Facebook will make updates, but says they will be the result of a two-year independent civil rights audit—not due to financial reasons linked to the work of civil rights activism.

In a post on Tuesday ahead of a meeting with groups spearheading the "Stop Hate for Profit" movement, Sandberg said Facebook "stands firmly against hate."

The executive said the platform has clear policies against such material and has made "real progress" over the years. But she conceded, however, the "work is never finished" and Facebook has to "get better at finding and removing hateful content."

According to the COO, Wednesday will see the publication of a final report detailing the findings of a 24-month civil rights audit reviewing policies and practices. Sandberg said the process has had a "profound effect" on Facebook's internal culture.

She said any future policy updates would result from the report's findings, not the ad boycott that recently expanded to include hundreds of U.S. brands.

Sandberg wrote: "While the audit was planned and most of it carried out long before recent events, its release couldn't come at a more important time.

"It has helped us learn a lot... we have put many recommendations from the auditors and the wider civil rights community into practice. While we won't be making every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice soon."

And referencing Stop Hate for Profit, she added: "We are making changes, not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do."

Facebook stands firmly against hate. Being a platform where everyone can make their voice heard is core to our mission,...

Posted by Sheryl Sandberg on Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Stop Hate for Profit campaign appealed for brands to cut their ad spending, accusing Facebook of failing to combat hate speech and extremism. Many joined, including Unilever, Lego, Coca-Cola, Adidas, Ford, Best Buy and Target.

The aim was to target Facebook's ad dollars, which accounts for about 98 percent of its annual revenue, reaching close to $70 billion in 2019 alone.

The Stop Hate for Profit organizers created a list of 10 changes they believed should be made but a meeting with Facebook executives on Tuesday, which included CEO Mark Zuckerberg, ended with little progress made, campaigners subsequently said.

"It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team is not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform," they wrote.

In response, a Facebook spokesperson confirmed the release of the audit later today, and said: "This meeting was an opportunity for us to hear from the campaign organizers and reaffirm our commitment to combating hate. They want Facebook to be free of hate speech and so do we. That's why it's so important that we work to get this right."

Sheryl Sandberg
Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg speaks during a Facebook Community Boost event at the Knight Center on December 18, 2018 in Miami, Florida. Joe Raedle/Getty