Culture

Companies That Boycott Facebook Continue to Advertise on Russian Social Media Platform

VK is popular among white supremacists, bans gay rights groups

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Advertisers that are now boycotting Facebook to protest "hate speech" have spent years running ads and marketing campaigns on a Russian social media platform that bans gay-rights groups and is known as a haven for white supremacists.

Over 100 companies announced a boycott of Facebook last week in protest of divisive political speech on the website. The boycott coincides with a public pressure campaign led by Joe Biden and other top Democrats to press Facebook to enforce stricter control over President Trump’s postings.

But many of these companies—including Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Adidas, and Reebok—have been regular advertisers on VK, a popular Russian media website used by many white supremacists and neo-Nazis who have been banned from Facebook. Several of these companies continue to have a marketing presence on the Russian website, raising questions about their recent concern about "hate speech" on social media sites.

VK’s popularity among white supremacists and neo-Nazis has been documented for years by media outlets and watchdog groups.

Even as they remain mum on VK's laissez-faire attitude toward online hate speech, major companies have pulled ads from Facebook for not policing speech on its own site.

"Racist, discriminatory, and hateful online content have no place in our brand or in society," Reebok and Adidas said in a statement last week. "As we focus on better practices within our company and communities to ensure lasting change in the fight against racism, Adidas and Reebok will also pause advertising on Facebook and Instagram globally throughout July."

Many of the companies that joined the Facebook boycott continue to market their products and brands in posts on their VK pages, including Starbucks, Ford, Unilever, Colgate, Vans, The North Face, and Patagonia. On July 2, two days after joining the Facebook ad boycott, Colgate ran a promotion on VK offering prizes to members who purchased its products and used the VK app to scan the product code.

Coca-Cola has run advertising campaigns on VK, including a controversial 2016 ad in which the company included the disputed territories of Crimea and the Kuril Islands on a map of Russia. Pepsi has also been an advertiser on the site and reportedly collaborated with VK on a payment app in 2018. Both still have an active presence on the platform.

None of the companies responded to inquiries about whether they would stop marketing on VK. Starbucks told the Washington Free Beacon that its temporary pause in advertising "applies to all social media platforms." Microsoft, Honda, Reebok, Vans, Patagonia, Colgate, The North Face, Unilever, Pepsi, and Coca-Cola did not respond to request for comment.

The Anti-Defamation League said VK has become "an international hub for white supremacists" who have been kicked off mainstream U.S. social media websites such as Facebook.

"Whereas posting most of their extremist comments, memes and videos on Facebook would likely result in suspensions or deplatforming, VK provides an open forum for such extremism," the ADL said last year.

Although VK has taken some recent steps to crack down on hate groups—including removing the page for a popular "Miss Hitler Contest" last year—organizations like the National Socialist Movement and the Ku Klux Klan still maintain an active presence on the website.

Last month, Focus magazine reported the far-right Russian Imperial Movement, a U.S.-designated terrorist organization, has been holding paramilitary training sessions for foreign white supremacist groups this summer, which are bookable over VK.

VK also complies with Russian laws against "gay propaganda," which prohibit content that is considered supportive of same-sex relationships. Several gay-rights groups were barred from the website last October after a judge ruled that their posts violated the law.

Update July 9, 11:05 a.m.: Following publication of this article, VK told the Free Beacon it does not tolerate extremist propaganda on its site.

"VK has never tolerated calls to violence, nor nationalist or extremist propaganda, regardless of their place of origin," VK said in a statement. "If such content is found, the VK Team reacts quickly to remove it and block offenders."