By CATHERINE THORBECKE, ABC News
(NEW YORK) — Derrick Johnson, the president of the NAACP and one of the leaders of the ongoing Facebook ad boycott, called the social media giant a “threat to democracy” and said that they won’t back down until the platform is safe for everyone.
“Facebook is allowing their platform to be used as a gathering point to meet, recruit and plan out harm against communities,” Johnson told ABC News. “They’ve also allowed their platform to be manipulated by a foreign nation and domestic actors to suppress and subvert our voting process and democracy.”
“That is a clear and present danger to our democracy,” Johnson said.
“The NAACP was started in 1909, in response to a race riot in Springfield, Illinois, and the founders of the organization have stated very clearly that we cannot have a true democracy if we allow for this type of mob violence,” he added, accusing Facebook of allowing the same violence “to breed on the platform.”
Moreover, Johnson said he believes Facebook has “absolutely failed to keep African Americans safe.”
“When you have a white supremacist group meeting on the platform, plotting and planning on the platform, that’s a threat to the African American community,” Johnson said.
“The fact that they allow their platform to be manipulated by a foreign nation, Russia, to suppress Black votes and subvert democracy, that’s an immediate threat to the Black community,” he added, arguing that “the outcome of that election has caused the neglect of public policy that we’re seeing now with the lack of response to deal with this health pandemic.”
As the leader of one of the largest civil rights organizations in the U.S., he said the group was inspired to take action with the ad boycott to get Facebook to finally pay attention and enact changes after he says his research found there was very little oversight of the social media “behemoth.”
Facebook made nearly $70 billion in advertising revenue alone last year, according to financial disclosures.
Facebook has no “regulatory oversight,” Johnson said, adding “there are no board or stockholders who can hold the company in check because Mark Zuckerberg owns 60% of the stock.”
Zuckerberg, Facebook’s CEO and co-founder, controls 57.9% of the total voting shares of Facebook, according to a 2020 Securities and Exchange Commission filing.
“The only thing that can be done at this juncture is to get the broader corporate community to stand with our groups and the American people, to raise the question as forcefully as possible that we need a new standard and we need guardrails on this platform to keep people safe and to protect our democracy,” Johnson said. “That’s not too much to ask of any company.”
The call for a pause on Facebook ads began on June 17, when a coalition of advocacy groups led by the NAACP, Colors of Change and the Anti-Defamation League launched the #StopHateforProfit campaign, calling on corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July.
Since then, organizers say nearly 1,000 companies have joined in the ad boycott — including multinational conglomerate Unilever, telecom giant Verizon and coffee chain Starbucks.
While the ad boycott was only to last throughout the month of July, Johnson said they are planning on continuing the fight for a hate-free Facebook for as long as it takes.
“For the NAACP, we are 111 years old, we’ve got to continue to fight against discrimination,” he said. “We’re going to continue to push for people to stand with us, for accountability, so discrimination or racial hatred is not on this platform.”
“There should not be a timeline on that,” he added. “That should be a collective effort to make sure people are safe.”
Since Facebook began to feel the pinch of advertisers pulling out, the social media giant has announced a series of updates in recent weeks, including labeling newsworthy posts, removing hundreds of extremist “boogaloo”-related accounts and updating its policy for hate in ads.
While these steps in the right direction are welcome, Johnson said the issue is “they as a platform are making changes after the fact, after there has been harm after there have been injuries.”
“We want them to be more proactive to ensure people are not harmed before changes are made,” he added.
He said Facebook already has “several roadmaps” of what needs to happen next, including making changes as a result of its recent civil rights audit, or listening to the boycott organizers’ 10 demands.
“They can start at any place,” he said. “They just simply need to get it done.”
A Facebook spokesperson told ABC News that the company has invested “billions” to keep the platform hate-free and fight voter suppression.
“We agree that we must be front-footed and take aggressive action against hate and voter suppression. That’s why we have invested billions in people and technology to keep hate off of our platform,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “We have created new policies to prohibit voter and census interference and have launched the largest voting information campaign in American history.”
The statement added that they have banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations and are producing regular reports about content moderation efforts.
“We know we will be judged by our actions not by our words and are grateful to these groups and many others for their continued engagement,” the spokesperson said.
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