Unilever joins major brands in pausing Facebook ads in US

FMCG giant Unilever has paused advertising on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter newsfeeds in the US, joining a host of other major brands that have made similar moves in the aftermath of the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ movement.

Unilever said on Friday (26 June) that it will not advertise on these platforms from “now through at least the end of the year”, adding: “Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.”

Meanwhile, Coca Cola has paused advertising on all social media for 30 days, with James Quincey, chairman and CEO of the global brand, saying “there is no place for racism in the world and no place for racism on social media”.

The boycott from brands such as Unilever and Coca Cola – as well as retailers such as Patagonia, The North Face, and REI – comes amid calls from activist groups that Facebook and other digital sites are not doing enough to halt hate speech appearing on their platforms. The latter three retailers are among a range of organisations that have joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, while others are addressing the situation independently.

The issue has been elevated in the wake of the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man who died in police custody in Minneapolis on 25 May. A video showed a white police officer kneeling on his neck for eight minutes and 46 seconds while he was restrained on the floor.

Floyd’s death sparked protests around the world, and divisive reaction on social media, with some platforms, including Facebook, criticised for allowing certain messages to be published.

Unilever said it will continue to monitor its social media ad strategy are will revisit its current position if necessary. It plans to shift its ad spend to other media, rather than cut its annual budget.

The internal Unilever Responsibility Framework calls for more responsible platforms, content and infrastructure, and actively engages with all digital platforms in an effort to make “meaningful change and impact trust and transparency” online.

“We have made substantial progress, and we acknowledge the efforts of our partners, but there is much more to be done, especially in the areas of divisiveness and hate speech during this polarised election period in the US,” Unilever said.

“The complexities of the current cultural landscape have placed a renewed responsibility on brands to learn, respond and act to drive a trusted and safe digital ecosystem.”

Facebook announced several changes to its policies on Friday, with founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg saying his company has invested in artificial intelligence and human review teams allowing it to “identify almost 90% of the hate speech we remove before anyone even reports it to us”.

However, the business moved to prohibit a wider range of hateful content in its ads, specifically 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.

“We're also expanding our policies to better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them,” Zuckerberg commented.