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Anti-Defamation League CEO on Facebook: Never has a single company been responsible for so much misfortune

<i>Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images</i><br/>Jonathan Greenblatt
LightRocket via Getty Images
Michael Brochstein/SOPA Images/LightRocket/Getty Images
Jonathan Greenblatt

By Matt Egan, CNN Business

Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, blasted Facebook on Monday following the publication of a series of articles revealing the company’s struggles to stop hate speech, human trafficking and coordinated groups that sowed discord ahead of the January 6 insurrection.

“The kind of monopolistic indifference the company has demonstrated in dealing with hate is mind-bending,” Greenblatt told CNN in a phone interview. “I don’t think ever before a single company has been responsible for so much misfortune.”

Greenblatt said the ADL is in talks with members of its coalition to “explore the appropriate response” to the Facebook Papers. “There are things advertisers can do to demonstrate their discontent,” he said.

Last year the ADL helped launch Stop Hate for Profit, a campaign that called on major companies to pause advertising on Facebook for failures to address the incitement of violence on the platform. Hundreds of companies eventually joined the ad boycott.

“Advertisers, from Fortune 500 companies to small businesses, need to ask themselves: Do they want to continue to invest in a platform that is knowingly pushing out misinformation and hate and that seems designed more to divide than convene?” Greenblatt said. “Companies can vote with their wallets and decide where they want to build their brands, redirecting resources away from Facebook.”

‘Move fast and lie about things’

The comments come after a consortium of 17 US news organizations began publishing articles based on the Facebook Papers, a trove of hundreds of internal documents that were included in disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The consortium, which includes CNN, reviewed the redacted versions received by Congress.

CNN’s coverage includes stories about how coordinated groups on Facebook sow discord and violence, including on January 6, as well as Facebook’s challenges moderating content in some non-English-speaking countries, and how human traffickers have used its platforms to exploit people.

“The news is stunning, but not shocking,” Greenblatt said. “Mark Zuckerberg would have you believe [Facebook] was doing all it could. Now we know the truth: He was aware and did nothing about it.”

As CNN reported on Friday, the Facebook Papers suggest the company was fundamentally unprepared for how the Stop the Steal movement used its platform to organize ahead of the January 6 insurrection.

“They misled investors and the public about the spread of misinformation that led to the January 6 insurrection,” Greenblatt said.

Greenblatt had his own spin on Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s famous “move fast and break things” motto for his company: “Move fast and lie about things.”

“We know they continually misled the public, misled the press, misled organizations like mine about the steps they were taking to deal with the hate on their service,” Greenblatt said.

‘All of us have a stake in getting this right’

In a statement Monday, a Facebook spokesperson said that “at the heart of these stories is a premise which is false.”

“Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our own commercial interests lie,” the spokesperson said. “The truth is we’re on track to spend more than $5 billion this year alone on safety and security and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook.”

Previously, the company has denied the premise of Haugen’s conclusions around the company’s role in the January 6 insurrection.

“The responsibility for the violence that occurred on January 6 lies with those who attacked our Capitol and those who encouraged them. We took steps to limit content that sought to delegitimize the election, including labeling candidates’ posts with the latest vote count after Mr. Trump prematurely declared victory, pausing new political advertising and removing the original #StopTheSteal Group in November,” Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told CNN Friday.

Facebook also published a blog post detailing its efforts around the 2020 election.

Still, Greenblatt said the current moment is an opportunity for business leaders to speak up about the problems at Facebook.

“Whether you’re a corporation or a celebrity or an elected official, all of us have a stake in getting this right,” he said. “Unfortunately, Facebook’s problem is all of our problem.”

However, Greenblatt suggested the best path, at this point, is to pursue regulatory changes through Congress and government agencies.

“I believe in self-regulation,” Greenblatt said, pointing to his own career in Silicon Valley. “But Facebook has proven itself incapable of demonstrating the kind of responsibility we expect for a company of any size, let alone one of its sheer scale.”

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