(Reuters) – Facebook, YouTube and Twitter have agreed to take the first steps to curb harmful online content, major advertisers said on Wednesday after boycotts of social media platforms accused of tolerating hate speech.
Under the agreement announced by the World Association of Advertisers, common definitions of forms of harmful content such as hate speech and bullying would be adopted, and platforms would introduce harmonized reporting standards. The deal comes less than six weeks before a polarizing US presidential election.
Three months ago, major advertisers boycotted Facebook after anti-racism demonstrations that followed the death of George Floyd, an American black, in police custody in Minneapolis.
Advertisers have complained for years that big social media companies are doing too little to prevent ads from serving alongside hate speech, fake news, and other harmful content. Big tech companies have begun to take steps to fend off calls for more regulation.
The platforms agreed to have some practices reviewed by outside auditors and give advertisers more control over what content is displayed alongside their ads.
“This is an important milestone in rebuilding trust online,” said Luis Di Como, executive vice president of global media for Unilever, one of the world’s largest advertisers. “While changes don’t happen overnight, today is an important step in the right direction.”
Carolyn Everson, Facebook’s vice president of global marketing solutions, said the deal “put the industry in the brand safety and fitness framework and given us all a single language to advance the fight against hate online.”
Activists wanting more regulation of social media companies welcomed the deal but expressed skepticism and vowed to keep the pressure going.
“While this is an early step and many details need to be cleared up, we welcome today’s announcement,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the oldest and largest anti-racism campaign groups in the US and a supporter of the campaign Stop Hate for Profit behind the boycott.
“These commitments need to be met in a timely and comprehensive manner to ensure that they are not empty promises that we have seen too often from Facebook. We will continue to urge Facebook and other providers to make significant changes to their platform in the coming weeks and months. “
Stop Hate for Profit did not reply to a message looking for a comment.
A statement last week said: “Facebook’s failures are leading to real violence and sows’ division, and we are calling on the company to improve its policies. We need to urge people to vote and demand that Facebook no longer undermine our democracy. Enough is enough.”
(Reporting by Martinne Geller, editing by Peter Graff and David Gregorio.)