Companies ‘virtue signalling’ over Facebook advertising boycott

Sir Martin Sorrell has accused some companies of “virtue signalling” as Facebook faces a growing advertising boycott over concerns that it is not doing enough to tackle hate speech.

The marketing industry boss – who led advertising giant WPP before founding latest venture S4 Capital – told Sky News he was not advising clients to withdraw their business from the platform.

His remarks came after Starbucks became the latest household name to suspend its adverts on Facebook, following the likes of Unilever and Coca-Cola.

Martin Sorrell still
Image:Sir Martin Sorrell led ad giant WPP before starting latest venture S4 Capital

The tech giant has come under fire over its perceived lack of action on hate speech – notably by keeping up a post by Donald Trump in which the US president said “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” during early protests over the death of George Floyd.

The same post was hidden by Twitter, which said it had violated its “rules about glorifying violence”.

Sir Martin said Facebook had made “strenuous efforts” to tackle hate speech – including new plans announced last week.

He told Sky’s Ian King Live: “I think they will be doing more to try and deal with it because clearly advertisers – quite rightly – are concerned about this, because consumers are concerned about it.

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“It is true there is some virtue signalling going on here – some righteous, or unrighteous, indignation.

“Some of the companies are just responding because they think it is virtuous to do that. But at its heart most of them I think are taking genuine steps to try and change the environment.”

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Earlier, Steve Hatch, Facebook’s vice president for northern Europe, told the BBC there was “no tolerance on our platform for hate speech” but that the debates around such issues were “extremely challenging”.

He said most people have a positive experience on the social network but admitted there was a “small minority of those that are hateful” because “when there’s hate in the world there will also be hate on Facebook”.

Mark Gibson

Graduates in Northwestern University, Evanston, Illinois 1990. Move to Los Angeles California in 2004. Specialized in Internet journalism.

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