An independent audit of Facebook’s treatment of civil rights is out today, and as CNN reports, the results are grim:
Facebook continues to operate with glaring blind spots for hateful content and misinformation on the site and has made a number of decisions in the last year that “represent significant setbacks for civil rights," according to a highly anticipated audit of the company's practices.
The report, which was commissioned by Facebook and put together by a team of civil rights attorneys over a two-year period, raised concerns about “vexing and heartbreaking decisions" made by the social network, including its decision not to take action on multiple controversial posts from President Donald Trump and being “far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression" with the 2020 election only months away.
The lead attorney conducting the audit, Laura Murphy, told CNN in an interview that Facebook is not “at the point where the appreciation of civil rights is as robust as it should be."
This audit comes as the Stop Hate For Profit campaign has pushed Facebook to take action to curb the spread of lies, hate, and racism on its platforms. Facebook executives met with representatives of member groups from the campaign yesterday to no avail; members made clear after the meeting that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and other company executives had shown no interest in actually fixing the problems.
In response to the audit, civil rights groups released a statement reading in part:
“We have seen progress in some areas as a result of this audit process, including on policing discriminatory and unlawful ad targeting and the creation and enforcement of a census disinformation policy. But many crucial civil rights problems remain that Facebook must address to protect our democracy and our communities. The civil rights community remains united in our commitment to pressing Facebook to address outstanding problems and to do so urgently given what is at stake. As long as the platform is being weaponized to spread hate and violence, harm vulnerable communities, and undermine our democracy, we will continue to hold the platform accountable.”
The groups noted that Facebook has much more work to do, including:
- Building a robust civil rights infrastructure with qualified expertise and policies, and holding itself accountable to its commitments
- Having a strong and consistent application of its own voter suppression and disinformation policies, and ending the loopholes for politicians
- Making civil rights a priority in the company’s decisions
- Investing more resources to tackle organized hate and violence against Muslims, Jews, and other groups targeted on the platform, both here and abroad
- Prohibiting the glorification, support, and depictions of white nationalism, either through explicit or implicit means
- Tackling algorithmic bias or discrimination on the platform
- Providing a process and format through which civil rights advocates and the public can engage and monitor progress
- Robustly enforcing its own community standards policies
- Doing more to stop hate speech from getting through the system
- Hiring more people of color and other minorities in crucial decision-making roles
The statement was signed by Asian Americans Advancing Justice, Color Of Change, Human Rights Campaign, Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, Muslim Advocates, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, UnidosUS, and Voto Latino.
Members of the Change The Terms coalition elaborated in their own statements. Jessica J. González, co-CEO of Free Press, wrote that “Mark Zuckerberg cannot lead Facebook to stop hateful activity from spreading when he is unable to acknowledge how far behind Facebook truly is when it comes to protecting people of color from the danger the platform continues to pose to our lives.” Brenda Victoria Castillo, president and CEO at the National Hispanic Media Coalition, wrote that “We’re tired of lies and empty promises.” Rashad Robinson, president at Color Of Change, said, “All we can count on is Zuckerberg pontificating about free expression, while giving a free pass to politicians to lie, sow discord, and thrive off of hate and political chaos.” This is just a small sample -- read more yourself here. Muslim Advocates and Color of Change elaborated more on Twitter as well.
The stark reality is that Facebook has known about its problems with bigotry for years and executives have not only done nothing -- they've actively made the problem worse. In the same time span, as I documented at length yesterday, the company has repeatedly made material concessions to right-wing media, while Zuckerberg has personally hosted right-wing figures like Ben Shapiro (who has his own lengthy history of bigotry) in his own home.
It’s becoming increasingly clear that refusing to make meaningful changes around bigotry and civil rights is just another way for Facebook to cater to the pro-Trump right.