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The companies boycotting Facebook in an effort to fight hate speech have been advertising for years on VK.com, “a Russian social media platform that bans gay-rights groups and is known as a haven for white supremacists,” the Washington Free Beacon said in a report this week.

VK (short for VKontakte), based in Saint Petersburg, describes itself as the largest social network in Russia.

In the past few weeks, advertisements for hundreds of brands — including Adidas, Starbucks, Patagonia, and Pepsi – have been disappearing from Facebook as the Stop Hate for Profit boycott campaign gears up.

The campaign is an effort to pressure the social network led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg into cracking down on hate speech.

But advertising has continued on VK.com, according to the Washington Free Beacon — though it’s not clear if these companies are, as of Wednesday, actively running ads on VK.

AMID FACEBOOK BOYCOTT OVER HATE SPEECH, ADS FOR 530 BRANDS SET TO DISAPPEAR FROM PLATFORM

The Free Beacon report cites, from July of last year, the Anti-Defamation League when it said that the Russian social media service has become “‘an international hub for white supremacists’ who have been kicked off mainstream U.S. social media websites such as Facebook” but continue to be active on VK.

In this photo illustration the VKontakte (VK) logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.

In this photo illustration the VKontakte (VK) logo is seen displayed on a smartphone.
(Photo Illustration by Rafael Henrique/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images)

Back in 2016, The Atlantic cited VK in a report, “American Neo-Nazis Are on Russia’s Facebook.”

That report said “white supremacists” had been migrating to VK for several years after Facebook took measures at that time to crack down on hate speech.

The Free Beacon added that though VK has taken steps to cull hate groups from its site, “organizations like the National Socialist Movement and the Ku Klux Klan still maintain an active presence on the website.”

BLACK WORKERS HIT FACEBOOK WITH CLASS ACTION COMPLAINT ALLEGING DISCRIMINATION AND BIAS

“We completely disagree with the statement claiming that we are ‘an international hub for white supremacists.’ VK has never tolerated calls to violence, nor nationalist or extremist propaganda, regardless of their place of origin. If such content is found, the VK Team reacts quickly to remove it and block offenders,” VK told Fox News in a statement.

“Thanks to user reports and proactive monitoring, we delete hundreds of thousands of pieces of content and block thousands of profiles every month for promoting violence and cruelty or distributing shocking content on our platform, regardless of where the offender is from,” VK said.

“There is more information about what we do to fight against calls to violence in our ‘Safety Guidelines’ section,” according to VK.

Fox News sought comments from companies cited in this story; only a few responded.

Starbucks told Fox News it is not doing any paid advertising on VK.com.

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Adidas told Fox News in a statement: “The swift and resolute action taken with Facebook and Instagram was only a first step. We are already underway with developing criteria that we will hold every one of our partners accountable to. We all have a responsibility for creating and maintaining safe environments, and we will soon address this across any company we may work with.”

Fox News’ Christopher Carbone contributed to this article.

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Facebook has released a long-awaited civil rights audit that’s bound to ramp up pressure to change policies that allow hate speech and other troubling content to flourish. It revealed that executive decisions by the company caused “significant setbacks for civil rights” and that the site could become an “echo chamber” of extremism if it doesn’t take stronger measures. “The company must recognize that failure to do so can have dangerous (and life-threatening) real-world consequences,” the report states.

Throughout the document, Facebook was faulted for placing free expression above hate speech. It singled out misinformation by Donald Trump around mail-in votes in Nevada and Michigan that could potentially affect the upcoming US elections in November 2020. Despite the false statements, Mark Zuckerberg left the posts as they were.

“Allowing the Trump posts to remain establishes a terrible precedent that may lead other politicians and non-politicians to spread false information about legal voting methods, which would effectively allow the platform to be weaponized to suppress voting,” according to the report. It also found “troubling” Facebook’s decision to allow Trump’s comment “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to stay up without any content warning, when other platforms like Twitter flagged it.

The report noted that the site doesn’t enable free speech the way Zuckerberg has repeatedly preached that it does. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices,” it found.

The Auditors believe that Facebook should do everything in its power to prevent its tools and algorithms from driving people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism, and that the company must recognize that failure to do so can have dangerous (and lifethreatening) real-world consequences.

The report, led by civil rights leader Laura W. Murphy and the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, had a number of recommendations. To start with, Facebook needs to apply its rules more consistently and “take steps to address concerns about algorithmic bias or discrimination.” The report also suggested that the site engage more with civil rights leaders, much as ad boycott organizers suggested at recent meetings. Finally, it said Facebook should invest resources to “study and address organized hate,” and prohibit “praise, support and representation of… white nationalism.”

In response to the report, COO Sheryl Sandberg said that Facebook has made some progress, having committed to hiring a civil rights leader to bring “much-needed civil rights expertise in-house.” It also expanded voter suppression policies, announced that it will include a link directing people to a voting information hub and committed to building a more diverse workforce.

However, the company also repeated talking points it has used before. “Facebook stands firmly against hate,” it’s “making progress… but still a long way to go,” and “it is the beginning of the journey, not the end,” Sandberg wrote. The company committed to making some, but not all the changes suggested in the report. Facebook said earlier that it will not “make policy changes tied to revenue pressure.”

Given the tide of advertisers, civil rights leaders, users and now its own audit turning against it, that might not fly anymore, however. “Facebook has what I call an appeasement strategy: Tell us what we need to hear, and Facebook can keep doing whatever they like,” said Free Press co-executive officer Jessica J. Gonzales, who participated in a call with Zuckerberg and Sandberg yesterday. “What they really need is a comprehensive sweep of the site of white supremacists, homophobes, anti-Semites and other hateful groups.”

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TikTok is withdrawing its popular short video app from Google and Apple app stores in Hong Kong, a company spokesperson told Reuters late Monday.

TikTok, which is owned by Chinese tech company ByteDance Ltd., will pull out of the Hong Kong market within days, and the app will be inoperable there. The announcement comes one week after the enactment of a controversial new national security law in Hong Kong that prompted a spate of technology companies to suspend some operations in the region while they review the new law.

“In light of recent events, we’ve decided to stop operations of the TikTok app in Hong Kong,” the TikTok spokesperson said on Monday. A company spokesperson did not immediately respond to Fortune’s emailed request for comment.

Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc., Google, and Telegram have stopped processing user data requests from Hong Kong authorities while they review the national security law, and Apple said it is “assessing” the new law, which went into effect in Hong Kong on June 30.

The national security law is expected to give authorities in Hong Kong wide-ranging powers that analysts worry will curtail data privacy rights and online freedom there.

TikTok’s departure from Hong Kong—a small, unprofitable market for the app, according to Reuters—comes a week after its ban in India, which accounted for 30% of worldwide TikTok downloads in the first quarter of 2020.

India banned TikTok and other Chinese-owned apps last week after a violent border clash between Chinese and Indian military troops left 20 Indian soldiers dead. ByteDance may lose more than $6 billion as a result of the ban. The TikTok parent is the world’s most valuable startup, according to CB Insights; its investors include Sequoia Capital China, Softbank, and SIG Asia.

Several U.S. Congress members have criticized the app for allegedly storing user data on servers in China and for censoring content to comply with China’s censorship rules, charges that TikTok denied last year. U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said late Monday that the U.S. is “certainly looking at” banning TikTok and other Chinese social media apps.

This story has been updated.

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Much of the country got its first impression of Mark Zuckerberg through Jesse Eisenberg’s unlikable portrayal of the Facebook founder in the 2010 biographical film The Social Network. With that kind of pop-cultural image, Zuckerberg was never going to have the generally warm reception of, say, Warren Buffet.

But since then, his public image has worsened. Zuckerberg’s net favorability is underwater at -14, finds a Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll of 1,276 U.S. adults between June 25 and 26.

Zuckerberg is the only Big Tech CEO with an underwater net favorability. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos has a +29 net favorability despite his routinely facing media scrutiny as well. And the highest big tech favorability scores went to Apple CEO Tim Cook (+41) and Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella (+41).

This image problem follows years of controversy surrounding Zuckerberg’s inability to keep foreign-bought political ads from Facebook’s platform during the last U.S. election or moderate hate speech and misleading posts on the site. And because of the latter, he’s currently staring down a growing Facebook advertising boycott.

And the U.S. public is split on his company, with 49% viewing it favorably and 49% viewing it unfavorably. That’s subpar for Facebook, especially considering the average U.S. adult spends 37 minutes of their day on the platform. Meanwhile, more than 7 in 10 U.S. adults have a favorable view of Amazon (85%), Alphabet (76%), Microsoft (75%), and Apple (72%).

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have agreed to appear in a House antitrust hearing later this month as even some Republicans are joining Senator Elizabeth Warren in calls for the federal government to break tech giants up. And this summer the Justice Department is expected to bring an antitrust lawsuit against Google for its digital and search dominance.

But the greatest weapon that Amazon, Alphabet/Google, Microsoft and Apple might have in fighting off a government crackdown is the public’s adoration and enthusiasm for their products. That’s something Facebook won’t be able to lean on as much, in the scenario that Congress or the Justice Department comes after the Menlo Park social media giant.

*Methodology: The Fortune-SurveyMonkey poll was conducted among a national sample of 1,276 adults in the U.S. between June 25-26. This survey’s modeled error estimate is plus or minus 4 percentage points. The findings have been weighted for age, race, sex, education, and geography.

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Amid criticism it is not doing enough to help combat the coronavirus pandemic, Facebook said it would start showing alerts to users of their main app as well as Instagram to wear face coverings.

“With the rise in COVID-19 cases in the US, we’re putting an alert at the top of Facebook and Instagram to remind everyone to wear face coverings and find more prevention tips from the CDC in our COVID-19 Information Center,” Facebook wrote in a blog post.

The announcement comes shortly after billionaire Bill Gates partly laid the blame on social media companies, saying they can do better to curb the spread of misinformation about the virus.

BILL GATES PARTLY BLAMES FACEBOOK, TWITTER, FOR CORONAVIRUS SPREAD

“Can the social media companies be more helpful on these issues?” Gates said during an interview with Fast Company. “What creativity do we have? Sadly, the digital tools probably have been a net contributor to spreading what I consider crazy ideas.”

In response, a Facebook spokesperson highlighted several initiatives the Mark Zuckerberg-led company has taken since the start of the pandemic.

“Since January, we’ve worked closely with health organizations, like the CDC, to connect people to accurate information about COVID-19 and we will continue to do more,” the spokesperson said in an email to Fox News.

“We’ve directed over 2 billion people to resources from health authorities and just today launched an alert at the top of Facebook and Instagram reminding everyone to wear face coverings to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. We’re also aggressively going after misinformation and have applied warning labels to millions of pieces of misinformation and have removed content that could lead to imminent harm.”

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE  CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE 

As of Thursday afternoon, more than 10.7 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 2.68 million of which are in the U.S.

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A group of black workers filed a class action charge against Facebook, alleging that the company discriminates against African-American workers in hiring, promotions, evaluations, and pay.

The charge, which was filed Thursday with the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission, also alleges that black employees at Facebook do not feel respected, valued, or heard. The people making the charge are calling on the company led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg to substantially increase the number of black workers hired and promoted at all levels.

“Facebook is a great company, but it has a long way to go when it comes to treating Black workers fairly, promoting our careers, respecting us, and valuing our tremendous contributions,” said Oscar Veneszee Jr., who has worked as an operations program manager at Facebook since 2017, in a statement provided to Fox News. He claims that he has not been fairly evaluated or promoted, despite his excellent performance and achievement at Facebook.

“We hope that this discrimination charge starts a constructive dialogue with Facebook about how deepening its commitment to diversity and Black workers will make Facebook a stronger and more dynamic company,” Veneszee, a 23-year veteran of the U.S. Navy whose work at Facebook focuses on outreach to veterans, diversity, and organizations, added.

HUMANS GENERATED RECORD-BREAKING AMOUNT OF ELECTRONIC WASTE IN 2019

Black workers represent only 3.8 percent of Facebook’s nearly 45,000 employees, and even smaller percentages when broken down by technical or leadership roles.  Two other black professionals, Howard Winns, Jr., and Jazsmin Smith, joined in filing the charge, claiming they were unlawfully denied jobs at the tech giant, despite excellent qualifications and credentials. 

The workers want the EEOC to probe what they claim is a pattern of bias against black workers at the social network.

The charge doesn’t arrive at a good time for Facebook. Organizers of the Stop Hate for Profit boycott say that at least 750 different brands are halting or pausing their advertising on Facebook this month in protest of how the company has handled hate speech. In November 2018, Mark Luckie, a former Facebook employee who is black, wrote a memo saying the company was “failing” its black users and employees.

HIGH-TECH GLOVE CAN TRANSLATE SIGN LANGUAGE WITH 99 PERCENT ACCURACY

In this Oct. 25, 2019 photo Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York.

In this Oct. 25, 2019 photo Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg speaks at the Paley Center in New York.

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“There are so many exceptionally qualified black workers that Facebook can hire and promote, including the courageous professionals who filed this discrimination charge,” said Peter Romer-Friedman, a principal at Gupta Wessler PLLC and counsel for the workers who filed the charge. “Facebook can and must do a far better job recruiting, hiring, promoting, and retaining black workers. It’s time to close the gap between Facebook’s words and deeds on the issue of diversity.” 

A spokesperson for Facebook provided Fox News with the following statement via email:

“We believe it is essential to provide all employees with a respectful and safe working environment. We take any allegations of discrimination seriously and investigate every case.”

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With coronavirus cases continuing to rise across the U.S., Bill Gates has partly laid the blame on social media companies such as Facebook and Twitter, saying they can do better at curbing the spread of misinformation about the virus.

“Can the social media companies be more helpful on these issues?” Gates said during an interview with Fast Company. “What creativity do we have? Sadly, the digital tools probably have been a net contributor to spreading what I consider crazy ideas.”

Fox News has reached out to Facebook and Twitter with a request for comment.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg alonside Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg alonside Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.
(Fox News/Getty Images)

BILL GATES: I WARNED TRUMP DURING PRESIDENTIAL TRANSITION ABOUT PANDEMIC RISK

Gates touched on a number of other subjects at the virtual conference, including people not wearing masks, which he described as “hard to understand.”

“It’s not expensive, and yet some people feel it’s a sign of freedom or something, despite risk of infecting other people,” the 64-year-old Gates said.

Despite Gates’ criticism, Facebook, in particular, has taken several steps in an effort to aid researchers trying to fight the pandemic.

On Tuesday, the company said in a blog post that Facebook and Instagram users would see an alert to remind them to wear face coverings.

In March, Facebook, Instagram and Twitter deleted social media posts from Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro after the platforms deemed they were spreading misinformation regarding COVID-19.

Separately in March, Facebook announced tips on how to spot fake news to its more than 2 billion users.

In April, the company said it would warn users if they have “liked, reacted or commented” on content that has been deemed “harmful” and removed by the tech giant and send them to information provided by the World Health Organization.

Also in April, Facebook and Fox News teamed up for a coronavirus town hall with White House coronavirus task force members Dr. Deborah Birx and Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams that let users ask questions about the pandemic.

Facebook also said in April that it would start to ask some of its U.S.-based users about their health in an effort to give researchers more information about self-reported COVID-19 patients.

Gates, who is worth some $109 billion, according to Forbes, has focused nearly all of his energy on public health responses since he announced in March he was stepping down from the board of directors of Microsoft and Berkshire Hathaway to focus on philanthropy.

In late April, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced it would give an additional $150 million to fight COVID-19, bringing its total contribution to $250 million. Some of the funds will go toward the World Health Organization, a frequent target of Trump for its response during the coronavirus pandemic.

After President Trump’s decision to halt funding to the WHO, Gates slammed the move, saying it “is as dangerous as it sounds.”

BILL GATES SAYS US MISSED CHANCE TO AVOID CORONAVIRUS SHUTDOWN, BUSINESSES SHOULD STAY CLOSED

The Microsoft co-founder also recently laid out a plan on how to reopen the U.S. economy, citing concerns the virus will cost the global economy “tens of trillions of dollars.”

CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE  CORONAVIRUS COVERAGE 

In May, Melinda Gates said the U.S. is “lacking leadership at the federal level,” which she said is “costing people their lives.”

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As of Thursday morning, more than 10.7 million coronavirus cases have been diagnosed worldwide, more than 2.68 million of which are in the U.S.

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A breakthrough in the Facebook advertising boycott came on Wednesday as the company announced CEO Mark Zuckerberg would meet with several groups who organized the effort. A suitable agreement for both sides is far from guaranteed, however, as the organizers push for concrete change.

Last Friday, Zuckerberg announced some well-timed changes to the way Facebook monitors content. They came in the face of the boycott that has seen more than 400 companies—including the likes of Microsoft, Verizon, Starbucks, and several other big names—commit to pausing ad spending for the month of July after Facebook left a post up from President Trump saying “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

In an employee town hall opened to the public, Zuckerberg said the company would ramp up efforts to prevent voter suppression on its platform, particularly tactics targeting race and ethnicity. For example, he said the company would start banning posts falsely claiming immigration officials were checking documentation at voting locations. He added that Facebook would put more effort into flagging false claims about voting in the preceding 72 hours before the U.S. presidential election in November.

The changes had been in development for months and were recommended by a civil rights audit that began in 2018, Zuckerberg said.

Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change—one of the civil rights groups spearheading the boycott along with the NAACP and the Anti-Defamation League (ADL)—was not impressed. “Zuckerberg’s address was 11 minutes of wasted opportunity to commit to change,” he tweeted that Friday. “I hope companies advertising on Facebook were watching—if they want to put their money where their mouth is on racial justice, then it’s time to #StopHateForProfit,” he added, referencing the boycott’s hashtag.

Zuckerberg’s latest attempt at diplomacy may do little to convince organizers like Robinson otherwise. In the view of his colleague Arisha Hatch, Color of Change’s vice president and chief of campaigns, “the initial response made a very small tweak, but for the most part just reiterated their existing policies that we know have been insufficient for a while,” she told Fortune. “Mark Zuckerberg and [chief operating officer] Sheryl Sandberg understand that what we really want is a permanent civil right infrastructure.”

A permanent civil right infrastructure would see Facebook appoint a C-suite executive with a background in civil rights to review policies and products for discrimination, bias, and hate. The guidance for this role is outlined on the Stop Hate For Profit website, along with nine other demands. Among them: regularly submit to independent, third-party audits with results published on a publicly accessible website, create an internal feature to flag hateful content in private groups for human review, and enable Facebook users facing harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee for help.

Facebook has faced criticism for years over the way it moderates misinformation and extremist content. The police killing of George Floyd and the demonstrations that followed prompted the latest outcry that has snowballed into this growing boycott, said Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the ADL. “We literally had extremists out in the open organizing on Facebook to disrupt these peaceful protests,” he said. “We had people advocating for violent unrest—I’m talking white nationalists and anti government groups—publicly coordinating on the platform on how they would undermine these efforts.

“We reached out to Facebook and said, ‘Hey, we really need a meeting now to deal with these issues,’” Greenblatt added. “And we didn’t get that with Mark and with Sheryl at the highest levels. We decided it was time to act.”

An advertising boycott was a natural choice—Facebook made 99% of its $70 billion revenue in 2019 from ads. Greenblatt stressed that the boycott is just a one month pause: “We don’t think this will somehow change the financial trajectory of the company. Our intent wasn’t to bankrupt the business; the intent was to make a point about the platform.”

Zuckerberg and Sandberg will take the meeting Greenblatt mentioned this time around. They will meet with him, NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson, and Robinson of Color of Change, early next week, an ADL spokesperson confirmed.

On the same day Facebook confirmed Zuckerberg’s attendance, the company also went on the defensive, publishing a rebuttal in AdAge by communications and global affairs chief Nick Clegg. “Facebook Does Not Benefit from Hate,” the piece’s headline reads.

“When content falls short of being classified as hate speech—or of our other policies aimed at preventing harm or voter suppression—we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech,” Clegg wrote. “Exposing it to sunlight is better than hiding it in the shadows.”

Hatch of Color of Change said that Facebook could make its stance clear by announcing the aforementioned civil rights infrastructure and making its previously conducted internal civil rights audit available to the public. “Meeting those demands would help a lot of us feel like they’re acting in good faith, that they’re actually trying to solve the problem.”

But she stressed caution, weary of previous pleas with the company that fell short in some critics’ eyes.

“This is not a new demand for Facebook, and it’s unclear why in a moment where so many corporations are trying to stand on the right side of history, why Facebook won’t do that as well.”

More must-read tech coverage from Fortune:

  • Why companies like Porsche and Nestle are using worker-owned site Braintrust for new hires
  • George Floyd protests, coronavirus face masks pose challenges for facial recognition
  • Russia’s online censorship machine is no longer running smoothly
  • Can Nikola Motor’s big battery promises be true?
  • Big investors like Bitcoin for the wrong reason

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Advertisements for 530 brands — including Unilever, Adidas, White Castle, Starbucks and Coca-Cola — are set to disappear from Facebook starting Wednesday as the Stop Hate for Profit boycott campaign gets going.

Amid a nationwide reckoning over systemic racism and police brutality, a broad range of multinational companies have joined the effort — pushed by civil rights groups who have grown frustrated with Facebook — to pressure the social network led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg into taking more concrete steps to crack down on hate speech.

A range of top Facebook executives, including Carolyn Everson, vice president of global business solutions, Neil Potts, public policy director, and Zuckerberg himself have held meetings with or reached out to advertisers in recent days, according to Reuters and other reports.

GOOGLE’S YOUTUBE BANS DAVID DUKE, RICHARD SPENCER FOR HATE SPEECH VIOLATIONS

However, sources told Reuters that the executives offered no new details on how they would tackle hate speech. They apparently pointed back to recent press releases, frustrating advertisers on the calls who believe those plans do not go far enough.

NETFLIX PLEDGES $100 MILLION TOWARD ECONOMIC INITIATIVES FOR BLACK COMMUNITIES

“It’s simply not moving,” one executive at a major ad agency said of the conversations.

Zuckerberg, along with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox have agreed to meet with the organizers of the boycott, a spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday.

Facebook also has said it would submit to an outside audit of its hate speech controls. In addition, the company is in the process of a multi-year, broader civil rights audit.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the boycott will have on Facebook’s bottom line. Although advertising accounts for the vast amount of its annual revenue ($70 billion in 2019), the top 100 brands only brought in 6 percent of that total, with most of the ads coming from small businesses, Reuters reports.

COVID-19 PANDEMIC CAUSED 18 PERCENT SPIKE IN US DEATHS: STUDY

“Facebook does not profit from hate. Billions of people use Facebook and Instagram because they have good experiences — they don’t want to see hateful content, our advertisers don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to see it. There is no incentive for us to do anything but remove it,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, in a blog post that defended and detailed the company’s efforts to stamp out hate on its platforms.

In the same blog post, Facebook also announced a major push toward registering some 4 million U.S. voters by featuring information at the top of their News Feed this Friday.

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