Verizon to pause advertising on Facebook

Claire Atkinson

Verizon is the latest company to pause its advertising on Facebook as the social media giant faces intense pressure to act against hate speech and stop disseminating untrue information.

Verizon, a telecom giant that spends around $1 billion a year on advertising, said in a statement Thursday that it has strict content policies and "zero tolerance when they are breached."

"We're pausing our advertising until Facebook can create an acceptable solution that makes us comfortable and is consistent with what we've done with YouTube and other partners," John Nitti, chief media officer for Verizon, said in the statement.

Advertisers are looking carefully at social media platforms and how their ad dollars are spent as the volume of political advertising grows and the media focus more closely on the activities of white supremacist groups. Many corporations have stated their support for the Black Lives Matter movement, and they are now under scrutiny to walk the walk and stop putting their ad dollars in a platform where hate proliferates under the banner of free speech.

Verizon is spending millions advertising its 5G business, but it also competes with Facebook for ad dollars. It owns a giant online advertising platform created after it bought AOL and Yahoo.

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A growing number of advertisers are choosing to put their names to an initiative called #StopHateforProfit, which is backed by the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League. The ADL shared an open letter to Facebook advertisers Wednesday outlining the risks involved in advertising with the company, which also owns Instagram. According to the ADL, Verizon ads have appeared next to anti-Semitic conspiracy theories.

"Every day, we see ads from companies placed adjacent to hateful content, occupying the same space as extremist recruitment groups and harmful disinformation campaigns," the letter says. "Your ad buying dollars are being used by the platform to increase its dominance in the industry at the expense of vulnerable and marginalized communities who are often targets of hate groups on Facebook."

Barry Lowenthal, CEO of the ad agency Media Kitchen, said in a phone interview that Facebook ad executives are doing a listening tour to meet agency executives.

"They wanted to talk about what it is they're doing, and they want to hear from us about what we want to see changed," he said.

"I want Facebook to stop taking political advertising. That hasn't happened," Lowenthal said. "If they continue to accept political advertising, then adjust all of the targeting so that you can't do microtargeting. Subscribe to the truth-in-advertising law. Apply it to everything on Facebook. We want to see all of that."

NBC News has confirmed that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg spoke to members of its ad agency, Client Council, to reassure them of Facebook's commitment to doing more and maintaining its neutrality, according to two sources who spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record.

Business Insider first reported Zuckerberg's conversation.

Other major advertisers are considering joining the protest, according to agency sources. Among those already backing the protest, which involves not advertising on Facebook in July and perhaps beyond, are Unilever's Ben & Jerry's, Eileen Fisher, REI, The North Face and Patagonia.

One of the world's largest ad spenders, Procter & Gamble, home to brands such as Pampers and Tide, said Wednesday that it has begun a review of where it advertises to ensure that "the content on which we advertise accurately and respectfully portrays Black people — and all people for that matter."

Facebook takes in $70 billion a year in advertising revenue.