As It Happens

Why outdoor apparel brand Arc'teryx is pulling its ads from Facebook this month

A growing number of Canadian brands are joining an ad boycott of Facebook over hate-speech. Arc'teryx executive George Weetman tells us why the outdoor apparel brand is demanding changes before it rejoins the social media platform next month.

Arc'teryx executive George Weetman says Facebook's definition of hate speech is too narrow

Several companies have pulled their advertising for Facebook to support the StopHateForProfit boycott. (Richard Drew/The Canadian Press)

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Arc'teryx is unfriending Facebook — at least for the next month. 

The Canadian outdoor apparel brand announced it will be pulling all ads from the social media giant for the month of July, joining Canadian companies MEC and Lululemon, as well as U.S. heavyweights like Coca-Cola, Unilever, Honda America and Patagonia. 

The companies say Facebook isn't doing enough to stop racist and false content from circulating on the platform. It's part of the StopHateForProfit boycott led civil rights and advocacy groups.

George Weetman, the vice-president of brand & digital commerce for Arc'teryx, spoke to As It Happens guest host Duncan McCue about the decision. Here is part of their conversation. 

We've known for a long time that racist and other objectionable content finds its way onto Facebook pretty regularly. So what was it that crossed the line for you that made you decide to pull your ads from the site?

We've all been doing a lot of listening, a lot of learning and, I think, trying to find ways for us to take action that represent our values and our belief system. So joining this boycott was really a reflection of us putting action behind a firmer commitment against racism and hatred.

You tweeted that Facebook promotes hate and bigotry, racism, anti-Semitism and violence. It could be said that that YouTube, Twitter and other social media sites are just as problematic. Why single out Facebook?

I think this is really the time for all brands to be looking inwards and trying to find ways where they can make changes to have meaningful impact. I think a lot of the platforms are doing that work right now.

And quite honestly, in the conversations that we've had with Facebook since the boycott began, we're encouraged by the sort of accelerated conversation. I think Facebook has recognized that their definition of hate has been a little bit too narrow for what people are asking for. And we're encouraged by Facebook's response so far to try to really improve the language around their ad and content guidelines.

In this May 6 photo, a person sits near a boarded up and closed Arc'teryx outdoor clothing store in downtown Seattle, shut down due to coronavirus restrictions. (Ted S. Warren/The Associated Press)

When you told Facebook that you were pulling the ads, what kind of response did they have in your conversations?

You know, Facebook understands. I think they're listening to their advertisers right now, which is encouraging. They're also trying to be quite clear about the steps they're taking.

They're engaged directly on sort of the nine requests from the boycott and really trying to find common ground to make meaningful change over the next 30 days.

I want to ask you about some of those steps that Facebook is taking, but have you ever seen a case where Arc'teryx ads have popped up next to two objectionable content?

Personally, I haven't seen it. But I think this is a little bit more of us being part of a larger conversation and really, really trying to make a recognition that small changes on a platform of the scale of Facebook should have big impact. And so this is more putting our voice behind, I think, [a] larger, larger problem out there.

What about your own customers? What have they expressed to you about their concerns about seeing Arc'teryx on Facebook?

Our customers, for the most part, support our commitment to join the boycott. I think they're looking for us to, like many brands, to put more action behind their values and to take a stronger stand against hatred and racism and to embrace a stronger collective around diversity and inclusion.

You mentioned some of the measures that Facebook says it's taking. I mean, they say they're spending billions of dollars a year to pull down, identify some of that objectionable content, that they've been able to identify 90 per cent of the hate speech before it's even reported. What more would you like to see the company do?

I think in Facebook's own language, they would say that 10 per cent leaves room for improvement. I think their ability to remove 99 per cent of of terrorism-related content shows that there is is an opportunity for them to to close that gap. And I'm confident the next 30 days are going to show a significant change on that 10 per cent difference.

And I think we have to remember, once again, that just the scale of their platform, each of those percentage points on that definition of hate is going to have a big impact on trying to make the world a better place.

George Weetman is the vice-president of brand & digital commerce for the Canadian outdoor apparel brand Arc'teryx. (Brian Goldstone)

They also say, though, I mean, they've been able to ban 250 white supremacist organizations from Facebook. So, again, in terms of being a social media site, how much of a challenge is going to be for them to police what their users are posting?

I think it's important to remember that Facebook is not short on resources to attack this problem. I think they have a responsibility, like every media company has a responsibility, to take a firm stand on racism. 

This not a resource issue for Facebook. This is really about them putting firm commitments behind language they've used. 

Facebook stock has dipped a little bit as a result of this boycott. But the brands that have joined the boycott, I mean, they're just a small fraction of Facebook's ad revenue. How optimistic are you that you're going to be able to have any kind of impact?

I think the sense that this topic is actually trending right now in media — it gives me a lot of confidence. I think Facebook is engaged in the conversations. I think they're having the right conversations right now with civil rights groups. And I'm confident there's going to be some progress made in the next 30 days that is going to help make the world a better place.

So if progress doesn't happen, that satisfies you in the next 30 days, will you stop using Facebook ads permanently?

Yeah, I think our commitment is to continue to put action behind what we believe in. We're going to take the next 30 days to evaluate the changes that Facebook has made, and we'll be making that decision come the end of July.

Written by John McGill and Chris Harbord. Produced by Chris Harbord. Edited for length and clarity.

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