Facebook admits 'trust deficit' as Mark Zuckerberg intervenes in boycott row

Zuckerberg: joined meeting this week alongside Sandberg and Everson
Zuckerberg: joined meeting this week alongside Sandberg and Everson

In rare move, Facebook founder attended meeting to assure Omnicom, Dentsu Aegis Network and Unilever as it faces growing advertiser boycott.

Mark Zuckerberg has personally intervened in the growing advertisers boycott on Facebook by seeking to assure ad agency companies, including Omnicom and Dentsu Aegis Network, in an emergency meeting this week.

In a rare move, the Facebook founder and chief executive attended a client council meeting, flanked by chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg and vice-president of global marketing solutions Carolyn Everson, to explain the company’s position over hate speech and political content moderation.

The client council, an intimate group of companies that work with Facebook, includes Omnicom Media Group (comprising media agencies OMD, PHD and Hearts & Science), Dentsu Aegis Network, and brands such as Anheuser-Busch InBev, Nestlé and Unilever.

Unilever’s Ben & Jerry’s ice-cream brand became the latest to announce a temporary boycott of Facebook advertising in support of Black Lives Matters campaigners calling for advertisers to put pressure on Facebook to take more action over racist content and misinformation. Patagonia and The North Face have also paused activity on the platform, as have US agencies Goodby Silverstein & Partners and Dentsu's 360i. 

Zuckerberg, who normally attends the meeting once a year, joined the call on Tuesday for a meeting that was originally scheduled for 11 June and included all client council members, Business Insider reported, citing three sources.

He is reported to have acknowledged advertisers' concerns and insisted that Facebook is reviewing its policies and decision-making processes, but also that the company sets its policies against a "north star" of freedom of expression and neutrality rather than maximising business interests. 

Separately, Facebook head of trust and safety policy Neil Potts admitted that the company has a "trust deficit" in a call with Canadian advertisers, also on Tuesday. 

A meeting arranged by the Canadian Interactive Advertising Bureau, according to a leaked audio file obtained by the Financial Times, was reportedly attended by more than 200 advertisers that heard the Facebook executive defend its decision to allow racially charged posts from US president Donald Trump to remain on the platform.

In the wake of Black Lives Matter protests in the US following the police killing of George Floyd, Trump posted on Twitter and Facebook a warning that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts", which is widely remembered as a threat against black civil-rights protestors by a notoriously violent Miami police chief in 1967. Twitter placed a warning label on Trump’s tweet for "glorifying violence", while Facebook left the message intact.

A Facebook spokesman did not return a request for comment from Campaign, but Facebook spokespeople are quoted in other publications as having confirmed the meetings took place this week.

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