Shareholders Concern Fb, Different Social Media Adverts Might Inadvertently Fund Hate Speech, Violence

In this March 26, 2018 photo, a man poses for photos in front of a computer with a Facebook ad … [+] Settings page in San Francisco. (AP Photo / Jeff Chiu)


Following the January 6 riots in the Capitol, social media platforms were re-examined to allow militia groups and other militant actors to organize and host content that led to calls for violence. The latest research into the impact of these platforms came not from activists or regulators, but from shareholders of large companies who advertise on Facebook, YouTube and Twitter.

The Open Media and Information Company Initiative (Open MIC) is helping to bring indictments against two of the first shareholder resolutions calling for companies with large advertising budgets to reassess their social media advertising practices. According to these shareholders, there are concerns that the money spent on advertising may inadvertently fund the proliferation of white supremacy, disinformation, voter suppression, government censorship and calls to violence, among other things.

According to Open MIC, shareholder resolutions have been submitted to home improvement retail giant Home Depot and media holding Omnicom. The resolutions ask companies to commission reports from third parties to investigate whether advertising purchased on social media platforms may have contributed to “violations of civil or human rights”.

“Advertising is the lifeblood of social media,” said Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, in a statement. “The rampant abuse we’ve seen on social media isn’t possible without the financial backing of some of the world’s biggest brands. You are ultimately responsible for these abuses and have a duty to stop them. ”

Home Depot and Omnicom don’t seem like obvious targets for this type of shareholder pressure, but they both account for a huge amount of online ad spend. Home Depot reportedly spent $ 179 million on advertising on Facebook in 2019 alone, making it the top ad buyer on the entire platform. Omnicom is now one of the largest ad buyers in the world. The holding company reportedly manages $ 38 billion in ad purchases annually for its customers, including media giants like Disney and Apple. Omnicom is also part of the Facebook Client Council, a group of executives who advise the company on issues like content moderation.

Neither Home Depot nor Omnicom have officially joined the massive boycott of Facebook carried out by major advertisers last year. While an attempt to pull money from Facebook’s platform for alleged hosting and, in some cases, promoting hate speech didn’t ultimately affect Facebook’s revenue, it sent a message to the company that companies are not interested in their products hateful content may appear alongside. Home Depot previously told Fortune it was “disgusted with hate speech and discriminatory content we see on social media,” but it didn’t advertise on Facebook.

The shareholder resolutions provide a new way to review business practices and spending on platforms like Facebook and Twitter. Unless Home Depot and Omnicom try to block them, the company’s shareholders have the opportunity to vote on the proposals made in the resolutions in spring 2021 during the respective general meeting of the individual companies.

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