Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have agreed on first steps to curb harmful content online, big advertisers announced on Wednesday, following boycotts of social media platforms they had accused of tolerating hate speech.
Under the deal, announced by the World Federation of Advertisers, common definitions would be adopted for forms of harmful content such as hate speech and bullying, and platforms would adopt harmonised reporting standards. The deal comes less than six weeks before a polarising U.S. presidential election.
Three months ago, major advertisers boycotted Facebook in the wake of anti-racism demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd, an American Black man, in police custody in Minneapolis.
Advertisers have complained for years that big social media companies do too little to prevent ads from appearing alongside hate speech, fake news and other harmful content. Big tech companies have begun taking steps to fend off calls for more regulation.
The platforms agreed to have some practices reviewed by external auditors, and to give advertisers more control of what content is displayed alongside their ads.
“This is a significant milestone in the journey to rebuild trust online,” said Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media at Unilever, one of the world’s biggest advertisers. “…Whilst change doesn’t happen overnight, today marks an important step in the right direction.”
Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president for Global Marketing Solutions, said the agreement “has aligned the industry on the brand safety floor and suitability framework, giving us all a unified language to move forward on the fight against hate online.”
Campaigners who want more regulation of social media companies welcomed the agreement but voiced scepticism and vowed to keep up the pressure.
“While this is an early step and many details need to be resolved, we welcome today’s announcement,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the oldest and biggest anti-racism campaign groups in the United States and a backer of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign behind the boycott.
“These commitments must be followed in a timely and comprehensive manner, to ensure they are not the kind of empty promises that we have seen too often from Facebook. We will continue to press Facebook and other providers to make meaningful changes to their platform in the weeks and months ahead.”
Stop Hate for Profit did not respond to a message seeking comment.
In a statement last week, it said: “Facebook’s failures lead to real-life violence and sow division, and we’re calling on the company to improve its policies. We need to urge people to vote and demand Facebook stop undermining our democracy. Enough is enough.”