After weeks of criticism — both external and internal — over its handling of President Trump’s posts on its platform, Facebook sought to change the narrative with an announcement that the social network will invest millions of dollars in diverse communities. But what might have been a straightforward public relations win could end up being muddied. Instead of highlighting any of the the thousands of Black-owned businesses it was hoping to support, the tech giant featured a years-old staged photo of a nonexistent barbershop.
When Facebook detailed its plan to support Black and diverse communities, Yahoo Life was curious to learn more about the business featured at the top of the announcement. The image accompanying the release showed a multigenerational group of Black men posing in a barbershop. Turns out, it’s just a generic stock photo — not an image of a real Black-owned business.
On Thursday, Facebook's Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg laid out how the company plans to support Black-owned businesses and organizations as part of its broader $1.1 billion investment. “From the early days of the pandemic, we have been listening to small businesses and trying to do what we can to help them weather the storm — including direct financial help through our $40 million U.S. grant program,” she wrote, explaining they enlisted advice from employees who suggested they could do more.
“We’re investing $100 million this year in Black-owned small businesses, Black creators, and nonprofits that serve the Black community in the U.S.,” one action item read. “This includes $25 million in support of Black content creators and $75 million in grants of cash and ad credits to support Black-owned businesses and nonprofits that serve the Black community.”
Yahoo Life ran the photo at the top of the news release through a reverse-image search to learn more about which Black-owned small business Facebook decided to feature. A return on the search revealed the picture was licensed by Getty Images with the caption, “Black family smiling in retro barbershop.” The credited agency, Jetta Productions, confirmed to Yahoo it wasn’t a real family business, but a setup produced for Getty Images years ago using an existing barbershop and professional models.
This isn’t Facebook’s first misfire involving stock photos. The company came under scrutiny last month when NBC News found its national ad promoting Facebook’s group feature amid the coronavirus was misleading.
The sentimental 60-second spot featured photos from the Facebook group, “Cheers for the Frontline!” in which users praised essential workers like nurses, doctors and grocery store staff. However, none of the posts in the ad appeared in the Facebook group, according to NBC. Instead, the pictures were pulled from public Facebook and Instagram posts, tweets and stock photo collections.
With Facebook pledging “an additional $200 million to support Black-owned businesses and organizations” this week, it seems like a good place to start would be by highlighting one, or a few, in the image chosen to accompany the announcement.
Yahoo reached out to Facebook on Friday and asked why it didn’t feature a real Black-owned business the company plans to invest in, but didn’t receive a response.
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