Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg will meet with civil rights leaders Tuesday as the social media company confronts a major advertising boycott over concerns that the social network profits from the spread and amplification of hatred and outrage.

In a Facebook post Tuesday morning, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg placed the meetings in the context of ongoing protests and calls to root out racism in the United States. Civil rights leaders are expected to use the sessions to press Sandberg and Zuckerberg to institute changes at Facebook, including installing a top-level executive who will ensure that the global platform does not fuel racism and radicalization.

More than 750 companies, including Coco-Cola, Hershey and Unilever have suspended advertising on the platform. Boycott organizers contend that Facebook has allowed to flourish content that could incite violence and exacerbate social strife. And by targeting Facebook’s ad dollars in the most substantive effort yet, organizers hope Zuckerberg and his team will be compelled to take action.

The company has said that it invests billions of dollars every year to ensure the safety of its users, and that it partners with outside experts to update its policies. Sandberg said the company will release on Wednesday the final report from its years-long civil rights audit. “While we won’t be making every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice soon,” she said.

Advertisers and civil rights groups have been unimpressed with Facebook’s promises to curb hate speech and label posts from politicians that violate the social network’s rules.

As the largest social network in the world, claiming 2.6 billion users, the company has an outsize role in media and global affairs. It’s positioned itself as a vital communications platform and an on-ramp for 8 million advertisers, most of them small businesses. Nearly all of its $70 billion in revenue last year came from advertising.

While the coronavirus pandemic has rocked companies that cannot thrive amid distancing and remote work, investors have flocked to the social network and other tech giants, sending Facebook’s share price new highs. Its market cap has swelled to nearly $700 billion.

In her post Tuesday, Sandberg said the audit was well underway before the current protests sparked by the May 25 death of George Floyd, a black man killed in police custody. She said Facebook’s actions were motivated by a sense of duty even as the company faces mounting public pressure. “We are making changes – not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do,” Sandberg said.

In a tweet on Monday, the president of the racial justice group Color of Change criticized the timing of Facebook’s civil rights audit. “This timing is a transparent effort to change the narrative,” said Rashad Robinson. “That Zuckerberg believes he is so powerful that he can ignore calls from major advertisers, multiple coalitions and a growing public puts our democracy and communities around the world at risk.”

Sandberg, relying on phrasing often used by tech companies, concluded her post by saying, “We are never going to be perfect, but we care about this deeply. We will continue to listen and learn and work in the weeks, months and years ahead.”

Facebook’s ambition and size has attracted scrutiny not just from civil rights leaders but from lawmakers worried about the power tech platforms wield in the marketplace. Zuckerberg, alongside the titans sitting atop Amazon, Apple and Google’s parent company Alphabet, are scheduled to testify in front of Congress later this month as part of an antitrust investigation into the potential abuses of big tech. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos owns The Washington Post.)


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