Lego pulls ads on Facebook over ‘hate speech’


Lego figure in silhouette Image copyright Getty Images

Lego has become the latest big name to join an advertising boycott on social-media platforms, saying “urgent action” is needed to end hate speech, discrimination and misinformation.

It would pause paid advertising on all social-media platforms for at least 30 days, the Danish toy company said, and spend the money “on other channels”.

More than 400 companies have joined the Stop Hate for Profit campaign.

It wants “hate, bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and violence” dealt with.

Facebook said artificial intelligence rooted out 90% of hate speech and it was teaming up with experts and civil rights groups to develop more tools.

It has also said it will start to label potentially harmful posts.

Mars, Target, Ford, Adidas, Coca Cola, Unilever and Starbucks have all joined the boycott

And some big brands have extended it to other platforms and suggested it could go on for longer than a month.

Lego’s chief marketing officer, Julia Goldin, said: “We are committed to having a positive impact on children and the world they will inherit.

“This includes contributing to a positive, inclusive digital environment free from hate speech, discrimination and misinformation.”

Lego said it would review its advertising on all social-media platforms, adding: “We are confident that solutions exist, but urgent action is needed.”

Much of the current controversy came from Facebook’s refusal to remove a post from US President Donald Trump, which said: “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” in reference to protests following the killing in police custody of an unarmed black man, George Floyd.

A similar post on Twitter had been labelled as inflammatory.

Lego had already paused the marketing of kits involving police figures and donated $4m (£3.2m) to combat racism, following Black Lives Matter protests.

It comes as the digital advertising industry comes under fresh scrutiny in the UK, with the Competition and Markets Authority calling on the government to introduce a tougher regime to tackle Google and Facebook’s market power.

The two companies had earned 80% of the £14bn spent on digital advertising in 2019, it said.

A week ago, Facebook might have thought it could ignore a boycott campaign, which, at first, was joined by a handful of companies known for being willing to take a stand on ethical issues.

But in the social-media era, which Facebook has played such a big part in shaping, movements can gain traction very quickly.

And a host of major companies have now decided it is better for their brands to join in the boycott than sit on the sidelines.

According to the Wall Street Journal, a meeting between a senior Facebook executive and marketing and advertising agencies on Tuesday failed to turn the tide.

From the concern over foreign interference and fake news during the 2016 US elections to the Cambridge Analytica scandal, which broke in 2018, Facebook has repeatedly appeared behind the curve, promising action only after it was driven to respond by an outcry from users or advertisers.

But while this latest crisis is causing damage to its reputation, it is still not clear how much the company’s bottom line will be affected, when so much of its revenue comes from small businesses.

And many of those taking part in the boycott are also pausing their adverts on other, smaller social-media platforms.

So, ironically, anger over Facebook’s content-moderation policies could end up doing more damage to rival sites with weaker finances.