Shares of Facebook and Twitter dropped sharply Friday after European giant Unilever, behind brands such as Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and Dove soap, said it will halt U.S. advertising on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram through at least the end of the year.
In response, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said the company will change its policies to prohibit hate speech in its advertisements.
Under the new policies, Facebook will ban ads that claim people from a specific race, ethnicity, nationality, caste, gender, sexual orientation or immigration origin are a threat to the physical safety or health of anyone else.
“Facebook will take extra precautions to help everyone stay safe, stay informed, and ultimately use their voice where it matters most — voting,” Zuckerberg said in a statement, referring to the upcoming U.S. presidential election.
Unilever said it took the move to protest the amount of hate speech online. It said the polarized atmosphere ahead of November’s election placed responsibility on brands to act.
Shares of both Facebook and Twitter fell roughly seven per cent following Unilever’s announcement.
The company, which is based in the Netherlands and Britain, joins a raft of other advertisers pulling back from online platforms. Facebook in particular has been the target of an escalating movement to withhold advertising dollars to pressure it to do more to prevent racist and violent content from being shared on its platform.
“We have decided that starting now through at least the end of the year, we will not run brand advertising in social media newsfeed platforms Facebook, Instagram and Twitter in the U.S.,” Unilever said. “Continuing to advertise on these platforms at this time would not add value to people and society.”
On Thursday, Verizon joined others in the Facebook boycott.
Sarah Personette, vice-president of global client solutions at Twitter, said the company’s “mission is to serve the public conversation and ensure Twitter is a place where people can make human connections, seek and receive authentic and credible information, and express themselves freely and safely.”
She added that Twitter is “respectful of our partners’ decisions and will continue to work and communicate closely with them during this time.”