Plummeting Facebook shares have wiped out billions of founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s personal wealth. The impetus? Corporations such as Coca-Cola and Verizon have pulled their ads, demanding that Facebook censor hate speech.
Zuckerberg lost $7.2 billion, after Facebook’s shares fell by 8.3 percent on Friday, Bloomberg reported. The dive in value happened after Unilever, one of the largest advertisers in the world, joined the list of major companies that suspended their ad campaigns on Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram. At around the same time, Coca-Cola said it was also pulling all its social-media advertising for 30 days.
More than 120 corporations, including Verizon, Dove, Lipton, Hershey’s, and Honda joined the boycott organized by activists and civil-rights groups that demanded Facebook combat what they term hate speech and disinformation on its platform.
Responding to the criticism, Zuckerberg, whose remaining net worth is now being estimated at $82.3 billion by Bloomberg, has promised to ban ads with “hateful content.” The prohibited advertising will include materials that describe a specific demographic as “a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.” He also vowed to fight potential voter suppression, and to take down posts by politicians and government officials if the company deems them to be an incitement to violence.
While Zuckerberg did not explicitly mention the boycott, it was clear from the announcement he was trying to appease its critics. The US media landscape has been deluged by a wave of calls for advertiser boycotts that came in the wake of the ongoing Black Lives Matter protests. The action targeted primarily conservative outlets and speakers, and ended up being so widespread that it garnered the attention of US President Donald Trump, who considered making such behavior “illegal.”
Still, while Facebook has largely avoided explicit Twitter-style hounding of ‘wrong’ political opinions so far, the social-media platform has been frequently accused of censorship. Despite its proclaimed strive for “transparency,” Facebook is very vague on its policies about ‘forbidden’ content. It has been repeatedly caught flagging and removing certain posts for no obvious reason. One of the most recent scandals involved a colored version of an iconic World War II photo depicting a Soviet flag over the Reichstag – that was sanctioned on V-Day for showing “dangerous individuals and organizations.”
Other Silicon Valley giants, such as Twitter and Google-owned YouTube, have been waging an open war on comments deemed hateful or inflammatory. Twitter has been embroiled in a public spat with Trump, labeling several of his tweets as violating the company’s policy against “abusive behavior.”