With 800 firms now joining the Facebook advertising boycott, the man whose idea it was explains how the company could easily clean up its act.
Jim Steyer: ‘We are focused on hate, misinformation and racism. And the biggest offender is Facebook.’ Photograph: Stephen McCarthy/Sportsfile/Getty Images
Sun 5 Jul 2020 08.00 BST
With more than two billion users Facebook is bigger than Christianity,” says Stanford law professor Jim Steyer. “Their ability to amplify hate speech or white supremacy or racist messages is so extraordinary because of the scale of the platform.”
It’s a typically bold statement from the man who set up the Stop Hate for Profit (SHFP) campaign calling on advertisers to withdraw from Facebook for the month of July. More than 500 firms have joined the temporary boycott, including Coca-Cola, Adidas and Unilever.
Facebook’s stock price has taken a tumble, though it still remains high, and last week its communications chief, Nick Clegg, was busy trying to persuade anyone who’d listen that the platform has a “zero tolerance” approach to hate speech. But, he wrote in a policy statement posted on Thursday, “[w]hen content falls short of being classified as hate speech... we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech. Exposing it to sunlight is better than hiding it in the shadows.”
As far as Steyer is concerned, Clegg, the former deputy prime minister and leader of the Liberal Democrats, has become a mouthpiece for social destruction.
“Nick should be embarrassed for putting that forward,” says Steyer. “He and Mark would flunk a fifth-grade civics class with their libertarian ‘free speech trumps everything in society’ argument. The first amendment doesn’t apply to Facebook. The first amendment applies to government restrictions on speech in the United States.”
He says the campaign is not afraid to “shame people who do terrible things to our society,” as long as it doesn’t involve ad hominem attacks. As forthright as he is in his opinions, some of the heat is taken out of them by the fact he seems to call everyone by their first name. This may be because he knows everyone. A renowned networker, the ebullient 64-year-old has been said to be “connected to more big names than Kevin Bacon”. His “little brother”, as he calls him, is the billionaire former hedge-fund manager Tom Steyer who ran a conspicuously unsuccessful campaign for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination. He dropped out in February, having spent $191m on advertising.
他说，只要不涉及人身攻击，这个活动就不会害怕“让那些对我们社会做坏事的人感到羞耻”。尽管他的观点很直率，但他似乎对每个人都直呼其名，这一事实也减轻了一些压力。这可能是因为他认识每个人。这位64岁的知名社交达人现年64岁，热情洋溢，“与凯文·培根（Kevin Bacon）相比，拥有更多的知名度”。他所谓的“小兄弟”是亿万富翁前对冲基金经理汤姆•斯泰尔（Tom Steyer）。他曾在2020年的民主党总统候选人提名竞选中惨败。在花了1.91亿美元在广告上之后，他在2月份退出了竞选。
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. ‘If he really wanted to, he could clean up that platform,’ says Jim Steyer Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Facebook首席执行官马克·扎克伯格。“如果他真的这样想，他可以来负责清理这个平台，”Jim Steyer说。 摄影：Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Among the names he mentions is “Sheryl” – Sandberg, the number two at Facebook. Steyer likes to joke that he is “no longer invited to Sheryl’s Hanukkah party”, as a result of his 2012 book, Talking Back to Facebook.
他提到的名字中有“谢丽尔（Sheryl）”，也就是Facebook的二号人物桑德伯格。斯泰尔喜欢开玩笑地说， 由于他在2012年出版的《Talking Back to Facebook》一书，“不再被邀请参加Sheryl的光明节聚会”
It argued that Facebook, along with other social media platforms, had “a very significant and negative impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of children”. Steyer is the founder of Common Sense Media, a non-profit organisation that promotes safe media and entertainment for children. A New Yorker, he started out as a schoolteacher in Harlem and the South Bronx, moved into civil rights – he did death penalty work with the lawyer and activist Bryan Stevenson and ran the NAACP Legal Defence Fund – and began teaching civil liberties at Stanford in 1986.
报告认为，Facebook和其他社交媒体平台“对儿童的社交、情感和认知发展产生了非常重大的负面影响”。斯泰尔是非盈利组织常识媒体(Common Sense Media)的创始人，该组织致力于为儿童宣传安全的媒体和娱乐。作为一名纽约人，他最初在哈莱姆区和南布朗克斯当教师，后来转到民权领域——他与律师兼活动家布莱恩·史蒂文森(Bryan Stevenson)一起从事死刑方面的工作，并经营全国有色人种协进会(NAACP)法律辩护基金——1986年开始在斯坦福大学教授公民自由。
Today, with his flowing blond hair and wearing an old T-shirt, Steyer looks every inch a Californian. On our Zoom call he even uses an image of a surfer’s wave for his screen backdrop. Since his book, his attitude towards Facebook has if anything hardened. Last autumn he found himself in conversation about social media with a new friend, “Sacha”, the comic actor Sacha Baron Cohen – best known for the satirical inventions Borat and Ali G. “He’s a very, very intelligent man,” says Steyer.
如今，斯泰尔一头飘逸的金发，穿着一件旧t恤，看起来完全是个加州人。在我们的Zoom通话中，他甚至将冲浪者的波浪的图像作为他的屏幕背景。自从他的书出版以来，他对Facebook的态度变得强硬起来。去年秋天，他发现自己与一个新朋友Sacha Baron Cohen在社交媒体上进行交谈，后者是讽刺发明Borat和Ali G最为人所知的漫画家Sacha Baron Cohen。“他是一个非常非常聪明的人，” Steeer说。
They were joined by Jonathan Greenblatt, head of the Anti-Defamation League. Out of their discussion came the idea for SHFP. Steyer’s intention was to launch the campaign back in January but decided more partners were needed. In the event Baron Cohen made a cutting reference to Facebook’s CEO when he introduced JoJo Rabbit at the Golden Globes.
反诽谤联盟负责人乔纳森·格林布拉特（Jonathan Greenblatt）也加入了他们的行列。并从他们的讨论中产生了SHFP的想法。斯泰尔原本打算在1月份启动这项活动，但后来决定需要更多的合作伙伴。在这次活动中，拜伦·科恩（Baron Cohen）在金球奖颁奖典礼上介绍兔子JoJo（JoJo Rabbit）时，对Facebook的首席执行官进行了刻薄的评论。
“It’s critical that the UK and Europe speak up – they’re incredibly important territories for Facebook“——Jim Steyer
“The hero of this next movie is a naive, misguided child who spreads Nazi propaganda and only has imaginary friends,” said Baron Cohen. “His name is Mark Zuckerberg.”
It was the protests provoked by the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on 25 May that led civil rights groups including Colour of Change and NAACP to come on board with Steyer. “A lot of the white supremacist arguments being made and falsehoods about both Covid-19 and racial justice were on Facebook,” he explains.
5月25日，乔治·弗洛伊德（George Floyd）在明尼阿波利斯的死亡引发了抗议活动，这使得包括“改变肤色”(Colour of Change)和全国有色人种协进会(NAACP)在内的民权组织加入了斯泰尔的阵营。他解释说:“关于‘Covid-19’和‘种族正义’等许多白人至上主义的争论和谎言都出现在了Facebook上。”
The newly formed coalition’s strategy was to “hit Facebook in the wallet”. But it’s a very large and deep wallet. The company generates more than $70bn in annual advertising revenues, and most of that money comes not from major brands but from small businesses.
So far the boycott has been limited to the United States, which means many of the companies that have been vocal about withdrawing their advertising continue to spend money on Facebook elsewhere in the world. Indeed, some have simply shifted their advertising to Instagram (also owned by Facebook) or targeted Facebook users through the Facebook Audience Network.
到目前为止，抵制活动仅限于美国，这意味着许多公开表示要撤回广告的公司仍然继续在世界其他地方的Facebook上花钱。事实上，有些公司只是将广告转移到Instagram(也属于Facebook)，或者通过Facebook受众网络（Facebook Audience Network）定位到Facebook用户。
Steyer is aware of these get-outs, but says he’s astonished by how quickly the campaign has taken off, far outstripping his expectations. In any case, he says, this is just the first stage. SHFP are now seeking a global response, and are looking to the UK and Europe to follow suit. They’ve set up a London office, headed by former Conservative culture minister Ed Vaizey.
“It’s critical the UK and Europe speak up,” says Steyer, “because they’re incredibly important territories for Facebook and the big tech companies, and there should be a universal rejection of hate speech and racism and mass disinformation because they’re actually undermining the norms of our democracy.”
Jim Steyer with Hillary Clinton last year. Photograph: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
吉姆·斯泰尔(Jim Steyer)去年与希拉里·克林顿(Hillary Clinton)合作。摄影:贾斯汀·沙利文/盖蒂图片
But is Facebook to blame for racism and hate speech? Is it the job of communication forums to police content? Until relatively recently, the social media giants have done a very effective job of presenting themselves as disinterested platform providers, no more liable for what takes place on their sites than a phone company is responsible for the conversations that occur between two callers. Using section 230 of the 1996 Communications Decency Act to make its case, Silicon Valley companies have successfully passed themselves off as internet service providers rather than publishers, which means they are not legally liable for user content. Steyer says it has become his “crusade” to remove this protection from companies like Facebook. “They’re the biggest publishers in the world,” he complains, “but they’re seen as utilities.”
A complicating factor – and one on which SHFP is applying pressure – is that social media, in particular Facebook, has eaten up most of the advertising revenue that traditional media, operating with all the restrictions and responsibilities that publishing entails, long depended upon. This economic component is just one part of a complex jigsaw of interlocking issues and causes that Steyer passionately maps out. It’s no coincidence, he argues, that the growth in unregulated social media has been accompanied by a growth in “authoritarian populism”.
He points to social media manipulation, electoral subversion, Russian dark ops and libertarian apologists. And he has little truck for the defence, made by Clegg, that as over 100 billion messages are posted on Facebook’s services each day, it’s impossible to capture every piece of hate speech (Clegg claims almost 90% of it is removed before it is reported).
“Don’t tell me they can’t figure that out,” says Steyer. “They’re a trillion-dollar company. If they really wanted to, they could completely clean up that platform.”
SHFP maintains that Facebook not only allows too much hate speech, but also has chosen Breitbart News as a “trusted news source” and has made the right-wing news website The Daily Caller a “fact-checker” (one of the third-party entities that review the accuracy of stories on Facebook). Both publications, says SPFH, have “records of working with known white nationalists.”
SHFP坚持认为Facebook不仅允许太多的仇恨言论，而且选择Breitbart News作为“可信的新闻来源”，并使右翼新闻网站the Daily Caller成为“事实核查者”(审查Facebook上报道准确性的第三方机构之一)。SPFH说，这两个出版者都有“与知名白人民族主义者共事的记录”。
SPFH also admonishes Facebook for not actively helping to get out the vote. Is that their responsibility too?
“I didn’t put that there,” Steyer says, before accusing Facebook of allowing voter suppression messages aimed at African Americans. Clegg made a commitment on Thursday that “every Facebook user of voting age in the US will be given information, prominently displayed on the top of their News Feed, on how to register to vote”.
Nevertheless for Steyer, the company’s political leanings are clear to see. “Zuckerberg has his thumb on the scale for Trump,” he says.
Referring to the private dinners held between the Facebook chief and Donald Trump, and attended by the Trump-supporting libertarian billionaire and Facebook board member, Peter Thiel, Steyer believes the Facebook hierarchy has allowed the president to use “dishonest ads and misinformation” and spread hatred. Thiel last week let it be known that he won’t be backing Trump’s presidential campaign this year because of the economic damage wrought by the Covid-19 pandemic.
谈到Facebook首席执行官与唐纳德•特朗普(Donald Trump)举行的私人晚宴，以及支持特朗普的自由派亿万富翁、Facebook董事会成员彼得•蒂尔(Peter Thiel)出席的晚宴，施泰尔(Steyer)认为，Facebook的层级体系允许总统使用“不诚实的广告和虚假信息”并传播仇恨。泰尔上周表示，由于Covid-19疫情造成的经济损失，他今年将不会支持川普今年的总统竞选。
Amid the Black Lives Matter protests, Twitter placed warnings on some of Trump’s tweets, including the line, notorious for its racist echoes, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts”.
在“黑人的命也是命”(Black Lives Matter)抗议活动中，Twitter对特朗普的某些推文发布了警告，包括一句因带有种族主义色彩而臭名昭著的警句:“抢劫开始，开枪就开始”。
Trump put the same message on Facebook and Instagram without any intervention. Zuckerberg said while he disagreed with Trump’s language, democratic accountability meant that the president’s words should be available for scrutiny.
“They’ve permitted him to have violence and hate…” says Steyer, before trailing off.
Having grown more animated in his denunciations, he is suddenly aware of moving too far from the stated agenda, and promptly issues a reminder that the campaign is politically nonpartisan. “It’s not Trump we’re focused on. It’s hate, misinformation and racism. All the platforms have responsibility, but the biggest offender is Facebook.”
Ultimately, he would like to see Facebook, which owns WhatsApp and Instagram, broken up and subject to the same publishing guidelines as the old media on whose content it trades. But that, he concedes, will be a long struggle.
“I’ll be doing this for many years to come. I’m a young man, I like my job, and unlike my brother, I’m not going to be running for president. I look at this as a mission.”