Facebook Adds Labels for Some Posts as Advertisers Pull Back

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SAN FRANCISCO — Facebook rolled out measures on Friday to add more context to problematic political posts on its site, as the social network grappled with a growing outcry from some of its largest advertisers over the issue of hateful speech.

Facebook said it would attach labels to all posts across its network that discuss the subject of voting, in a move intended to hamper any disenfranchisement of voters in the November election. The labels will direct users to accurate voting information, the company said.

In addition, Facebook said it would expand its policies around hate speech and prohibit a wider category of hateful language in ads on the site. A post that violates Facebook’s rules but is from an important political figure, such as President Trump, will get a label saying it was deemed “newsworthy” enough to remain, the company said.

Facebook has been trying to deal with its role in spreading disinformation and divisive content. The Silicon Valley company has been under fire for allowing inaccurate or inflammatory posts from Mr. Trump to remain unaltered on its site, even as Twitter has attached fact checks and warnings[1] to the same content on its service.

Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, has said that he believes in supporting free speech[2] and that posts from political leaders should not be policed because they are in the public’s interests to view and read. But critics have said Mr. Zuckerberg is simply allowing hateful speech to flourish on the social network with few limits.

In recent weeks, Facebook has faced increasing opposition to its position on hateful speech from one of its most important constituents: advertisers, which generate the bulk of its $70.7 billion[3] in annual revenue. Brands like Eddie Bauer, Ben & Jerry’s and Magnolia Pictures have announced that they will cease buying advertising on Facebook[4] until it reconsiders its stance.

On Friday, more companies said they would pull back from advertising on Facebook because of hateful speech remaining on the site. They included Unilever, the British-Dutch maker of consumer goods and one of Facebook’s largest advertisers. On Thursday, Verizon also said it was pausing its advertising[5] on Facebook.

“The stakes are too high,” said Steve Lesnard, vice president of marketing at the North Face, a clothing brand that is participating in the ad boycott. “The platform needs to evolve.”

Facebook has also been grappling with an internal uproar over Mr. Trump’s inflammatory posts. Employees staged a virtual walkout[6] this month in protest of Mr. Zuckerberg’s position of allowing the posts to remain. Some of the company’s earliest workers have also implored the chief executive to change his mind[7] in an open letter.

Mr. Zuckerberg has refused to budge, though he said he and others on his policy team will review the company’s rules.

Since then, Facebook has made modifications that do not require it to pull down hateful speech but that give people more options with such posts. The company said this month that it would allow people in the United States to opt out of seeing social-issue, electoral or political ads[8] from candidates or political action committees in their Facebook or Instagram feeds, for example.

On Friday, Mr. Zuckerberg said in a livestreamed address to his employees, “I’m committed to making sure Facebook remains a place where people can use their voice to discuss important issues, because I believe we can make more progress when we hear each other.”

He added, “But I also stand against hate, or anything that incites violence or suppresses voting, and we’re committed to removing that no matter where it comes from.”

He said the definition of hate speech would grow to prohibit ads that claim “people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.” He said the policy would expand to protect immigrants, migrants, refugees and asylum seekers “from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.”

For posts on voting, the company said it would attach links to what Facebook calls its “voter information center,” an initiative it has pushed in recent weeks to provide users with more data on elections.

Yael Eisenstat, a visiting fellow at Cornell Tech, who in 2018 headed the elections integrity team for political ads at Facebook, said the changes “are important and good steps.”

“They should have come a long time ago, but clearly there has been an incredible amount of pressure,” she said.

She added that it was still an “open question” as to whether Facebook would “enforce these polices against the less clear-cut posts by the president that are intentionally sowing distrust in the electoral process.”

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