The top five banks in Canada have stopped advertising with Facebook, joining a global boycott in protest of the social media giant’s approach to hate speech on its platforms.
Royal Bank of Canada, TD Bank Group, Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce, Bank of Montreal and Bank of Nova Scotia all said this week they will join the boycott of Facebook’s platforms for the month of July. But the impact of the banks’ boycott is unclear, since none of the five would say how much they typically spend in monthly advertising on Facebook or its subsidiary Instagram.
The five banks are now part of a growing list of hundreds of companies around the world backing away from Facebook, which includes Canadian companies such as Lululemon Athletica Inc. and Herschel Supply Company, as well as major global brands such as Coca-Cola Company, Ford Motor Company and Molson Coors Beverage Company.
Stop Hate for Profit, a coalition of advocacy groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP, is leading the boycott campaign, urging businesses “to hit pause on all advertising spend on Facebook properties in July.”
“Let’s send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence,” the coalition said in a statement on its website.
The coalition has pressed Facebook to take a harder line on hate speech, arguing that white supremacists, Holocaust deniers, violent conspiracy theorists and anti-government militias have been allowed to post, form groups and recruit members on Facebook platforms.
“While Facebook claims to support ‘free speech,’ in actuality, they are allowing hate speech to run rampant,” NAACP said on its website last week.
Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, responded to the boycott in a Wednesday open letter headlined: “Facebook does not benefit from hate.”
Clegg noted that Facebook has seen intense criticism in recent weeks for not intervening when U.S. President Donald Trump posted “inflammatory rhetoric” on the site. Facebook employees erupted in protest in early June, staging a virtual walk-out from work after the company declined to remove or add a note to Trump’s “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” post directed at protests in Minnesota over George Floyd’s killing.
Meanwhile Twitter, Facebook’s competitor, decided to add a disclaimer when Trump posted the same comment in a tweet, noting that the message “violated the Twitter Rules about glorifying violence. However, Twitter has determined that it may be in the public’s interest for the Tweet to remain accessible.”
In response to critics calling on Facebook to be more aggressive in removing Trump’s posts, Clegg said “the only way to hold the powerful to account is ultimately through the ballot box.”
“Unfortunately, zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidences. With so much content posted every day, rooting out the hate is like looking for a needle in a haystack,” Clegg wrote. “When content falls short of being classified as hate speech — or of our other policies aimed at preventing harm or voter suppression — we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech.”
In an emailed statement released on Wednesday, BMO said it will be in contact with Facebook to discuss “changes they can make to their platforms to reduce the spread of hate speech.”
Scotiabank said the decision to boycott “was made based on our fundamental belief and practice in creating inclusive environments for our employees, customers, shareholders and communities.”
And TD said it was “committed to the fight against racism and hate speech and to the work needed to help create a safer and more inclusive society.”