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Facebook ad boycott goes ahead after last-minute talks with companies break down

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Advertisements for more than 400 brands including Coca-Cola and Starbucks are due to vanish from Facebook on Wednesday, after the failure of last-ditch talks to stop a boycott over hate speech on the site.

U.S. civil rights groups have enlisted the multinationals to help pressure the social media giant into taking concrete steps to block hate speech in the wake of the death of George Floyd and amid a national reckoning over racism.

Facebook executives including Carolyn Everson, vice president of global business solutions, and Neil Potts, public policy director, held at least two meetings with advertisers on Tuesday, the eve of the planned one-month boycott, three sources who participated in the calls told Reuters.

But the executives offered no new details on how they would tackle hate speech, the sources said. Instead, they pointed back to recent press releases, frustrating advertisers on the calls who believe those plans do not go far enough.

“It’s simply not moving,” said one executive at a major ad agency of the conversations.

Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with the organizers of the boycott, a spokeswoman said late Tuesday.

U.S. civil rights groups including the Anti-Defamation League, NAACP and Color of Change started the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign after the death of Floyd, a Black man who died under the knee of a white police officer last month.

The groups outlined 10 demands for Facebook including allowing people who experience severe harassment to speak with a Facebook employee and giving refunds to brands whose ads show up next to offensive content that is later removed.

Facebook said earlier this week it would submit to an audit of its hate speech controls, adding to plans to label newsworthy content that would otherwise violate its policies, following similar practices at other social media platforms such as Twitter Inc.

One digital ad agency representative who participated in a call on Tuesday said Facebook executives referred repeatedly to the audit, without offering additional concessions.

Facebook executives have reached out to chief executives, board members and chief marketing officers of major advertisers to talk them out of the boycott, two people briefed on the discussions told Reuters. All the sources requested anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

The boycott will be a test for advertisers on how to reach billions of consumers without relying on the largest social media platform in the world, an executive at a major ad agency said.

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