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On Wednesday morning, Sacha Baron Cohen posted a message on his Instagram informing his 600,000 followers that he’d be “freezing” his account for the next 24 hours. Mark Ruffalo had a similar missive for his 18.7 million followers.
The actors, alongside more than a dozen other celebrities including Kim Kardashian, Kerry Washington, Leonardo DiCaprio and Dwyane Wade, are part of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign organized by a coalition of civil rights groups that want Instagram owner Facebook to curb racism, misinformation and hate speech on its platforms.
Jonathan Greenblatt, the CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, which helped organize the campaign alongside coalition members including Color of Change, Common Sense and NAACP, calls the early response from public figures “extraordinary.” He says that people who have posted about the Instagram freeze reach over 1 billion followers combined across Twitter and Instagram.
Not all of those followers have responded favorably to the campaign. Many, in comments on the posts, have questioned how effective a one-day freeze can be and have suggested that the celebrities delete their accounts permanently if they want to take a stand.
Greenblatt shrugs off the criticism, explaining that Stop Hate for Profit is more about starting a dialog than impacting Facebook’s bottom line. “This is all about creating a conversation,” he says. “This is all about generating a grassroots movement.”
An Instagram representative did not respond to a request for comment.
David Craig, clinical associate director of communications at USC’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, says that while social media companies might not see an impact on their businesses from a one-day campaign, that doesn’t mean the efforts can’t still be effective. “Attempts to force a reckoning of the tech industries, particularly the social media platforms, are incredibly important but they’re more often mostly symbolic and designed to raise awareness,” he says.
For the groups that teamed up to organize Stop Hate for Profit, the Instagram freeze is one piece of a larger effort. Their first act was to organize an advertising boycott in July that signed on over 1,000 brands, including Coca-Cola, Ford and Verizon. It led to a meeting between the coalition, which also includes Free Press, LULAC, Mozilla, National Hispanic Media Center and Sleeping Giants, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg.
But, says NAACP president and CEO Derrick Johnson, the group decided to step up its message again after it was revealed that Facebook failed to take down a page operated by a fringe militia group, Kenosha Guard, that organized an event encouraging armed intervention in the Wisconsin city during which 17-year-old Kyle Rittenhouse killed two people. “We had a tipping point where we needed to escalate our advocacy to get Facebook to address hate content on its platform,” Johnson says.
Beginning Sept. 14, the coalition began a week of action where it encouraged participants to post different messages about Facebook and the importance of voting to their social media accounts.
Greenblatt says Cohen helped get the word out about the Instagram freeze, which comes midway through the weeklong campaign. The two developed a relationship after Cohen gave the keynote address at the ADL Never Is Now Summit in 2019. During the speech, he spoke about the role of social media in spreading conspiracy theories, calling them “the greatest propaganda machine in history.” He has been a driver of conversation about Stop Hate for Profit on his social media all summer. Johnson adds that the group tapped their networks to bring on board other participants, explaining “the celebrity community is really supportive of what we’re doing.”
Experts on social media and group behavior say it’s what comes after the Instagram freeze that will be most valuable for the campaign’s lasting impact. Efforts like this, explains Craig, “have to be followed up with multiple strategies to really enforce and demand change by these platforms.”
Greenblatt says the coalition is doing just that. On its website, Stop Hate for Profit suggests that, following the freeze, people call on Facebook to do more to address violence on its platform and to remove misinformation related to the election. “We going to continue to drive the messaging all week,” he says.
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