USA: Civil rights groups call on Facebook to stop use of its platform to spread hate & violence & to ensure greater accountability of leadership

Facebook has been criticized by civil society groups over the past several years regarding the use of its platform to spread hate, bigotry, and disinformation. Some civil society have called for Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg to step down from Facebook's board of directors following what they described as the company’s role in “generating bigotry and hatred towards vulnerable communities”. They have also called for diversifying the board and appointing an independent and permanent civil rights ombudsman to the board.

In May 2018, Facebook initiated a civil rights audit. This has led to the company making changes related to enforcement against harmful content, fighting discrimination in ads, and protecting the US 2020 Census and elections against intimidation. In June 2019, Facebook announced the creation of a civil rights task force and an election monitoring center to guard against interference in the 2020 presidential campaign and census. Facebook is also introducing civil rights training for all senior leaders on the task force and key employees who work in the early stages of developing relevant products and policies. Civil society has urged Facebook to take further action.

In August 2019, Media Matters for America produced research alleging that Facebook is allowing white supremacist ideology thrive on its platform. We invited Facebook to respond; it did not.

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Article
17 September 2019

Facebook releases charter explaining structure & governance of Oversight Board

Author: Facebook

"Establishing structure and governance for an independent oversight board," 17 Sept 2019

... We’re announcing more details on the structure of the Oversight Board and its relationship to Facebook in the form of a charter. This central governing document defines the board’s mandate and describes its relationship to Facebook... We often received a key piece of feedback: make sure the board is independent from Facebook. One way we’re addressing this is by establishing an independent trust. The Oversight Board, the trust and Facebook will have separate roles and responsibilities... Both Facebook and its users will be able to refer cases to the board for review. For now, the board will begin its operations by hearing Facebook-initiated cases. The system for users to initiate appeals to the board will be made available over the first half of 2020.

Company non-response
3 September 2019

Facebook did not respond to allegations by Media Matters for America

Article
15 August 2019

For five years, Facebook has let a white supremacist dog whistle thrive

Author: Natalie Martinez, Media Matters for America

Since 2014, right-wing Facebook pages have used the word “invasion” to push hateful rhetoric targeting Muslim and Latinx immigrants... Anti-immigrant "invasion" narratives gained traction on right-wing Facebook pages in 2014 when Barack Obama was President... Anti-immigrant “invasion” posts in 2014 followed a template: fearmonger about Latin American immigrants coming to the U.S. and blame Obama for it... On Facebook, anti-immigrant attacks spread alongside anti-Muslim conspiracy theories inspired by white supremacist ideology... Over the past year, right-wing pages have implemented this white supremacist dog whistle in reaction to two major news cycles: the Trump administration’s family separation policies from May to July 2018 and the caravans of Central American migrants and asylum-seekers heading toward the southern U.S. border in October and November... Facebook’s current hate speech guidelines in its community standards extend “some protections for immigration status.”... Even though the company has policies that seem to prohibit most if not all “invasion” content, Facebook still allows it to exist and spread on its platform. In March, Facebook claimed it did not consider a post pushing white supremacist claims about a “Muslim Invasion” in the U.K. to be a violation of its community standards. A year after leaked documents revealed that Facebook allowed praise for white nationalism and separatism on its platform after the August 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, VA, the company implemented a so-called white nationalist ban.

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Article
13 August 2019

Despite bias claims, new data shows that Facebook is still not censoring conservatives

Author: Natalie Martinez, Media Matters for America

CNN reported that President Donald Trump's administration was drafting an executive order calling on the Federal Communications Commission to develop new regulations “clarifying how and when the law protects social media websites when they decide to remove or suppress content on their platforms.” Trump’s order, which specifically targets Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, is intended to address claims of “unproven systemic bias against conservatives by technology platforms.” Trump’s actions come after years of baseless claims from conservative politicians and right-wing media personalities that social media platforms actively suppress and censor right-wing accounts... 

Media Matters has previously published two other studies on political engagement on Facebook that debunked allegations that Facebook was censoring right-leaning pages... A new Media Matters study of 385 Facebook pages that regularly post about American political news found that between March 18 and August 4, 2019, right-leaning and left-leaning pages had virtually the same engagement numbers relative to page size. Media Matters also found that right-leaning pages on average earned more interactions per week than left-leaning pages and pages without political alignment. 

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Article
30 June 2019

Facebook announces civil rights task force to fight meddling in 2020 election and census

Author: Brian Fung, CNN Business

Facebook has launched a civil rights task force and an election monitoring center to guard against interference in the 2020 presidential campaign and census, the tech giant said Sunday. The Facebook task force, chaired by COO Sheryl Sandberg, follows pressure from civil rights groups and minorities who say the company has not done enough to combat anti-democratic tactics such as voter intimidation and suppression. The US election team will be established by the end of the year... [The] announcement came as a leading civil rights expert released her second interim report in a multi-year audit of the social media company... [which] said Facebook has improved in the way it incorporates civil rights concerns into its products, but raised questions about the long-term durability of those efforts.

... Facebook promises to roll out a range of additional policies... Advertisements trying to persuade users not to vote will soon be forbidden, for example. The company will restrict how housing, credit and job advertisers may target users so as to prevent discrimination by age and gender, which has repeatedly been a problem on the platform despite Facebook's promises to address it. And it will launch a new policy in the fall banning any content aimed at misleading users about the upcoming census.

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Article
30 June 2019

Facebook civil rights audit takes important steps, not significant strides, says Change the Terms Coalition

Author: Change the Terms Coalition, Medium

Members of Change the Terms released the following statements on the audit, following their work with Facebook over the past year to develop a civil rights accountability structure... "We cannot rely on Facebook to tell us whether the changes they are making to address hateful activity on their platform protect their diverse users. In this audit, the company commits to improvements consistent with Change the Terms’ recommendations in some key areas, including moving responsibility for addressing hateful activities to senior management and tackling teams of trolls and bots pushing hate in the election context. But, we still need much broader transparency so independent researchers can look at data and answer whether these changes make a difference"... said Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and member of Change the Terms.

The Change the Terms coalition has urged major tech companies, including Facebook, to not only strengthen their terms and services against hateful content but to adopt specific corporate policies on transparency, enforcement and evaluation... We also urge Facebook to create a transparent and neutral online appeal process and provide quarterly online reports to the public summarizing how the company is flagging content and enforcing their terms on hateful activity.

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Article
30 June 2019

Facebook releases update on civil rights audit & announces civil rights taskforce

Author: Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook

"A Second Update on Our Civil Rights Audit" 30 Jun 2019

Civil rights are the foundation of a free and just society — and something we care deeply about as a company. We want to make sure we’re advancing civil rights on our platform, and today we’re sharing a second report... [which] highlights four areas where we’ve made changes... 1) Strengthening Our Policies and Enforcement Against Harmful Content;... 2) Fighting Discrimination in Facebook Ads;... 3) Protecting the 2020 Census and Elections Against Intimidation;... 4) Formalizing Facebook’s Civil Rights Task Force... We’re building a team dedicated to these census efforts and introducing a new policy... that protects against misinformation related to the census... [W]e’re announcing plans to build greater awareness about civil rights on Facebook and long-term accountability across the company... The task force will onboard civil rights expertise to ensure it is effective in addressing areas like content policy, fairness in artificial intelligence, privacy, and elections... We’re also introducing civil rights training for all senior leaders on the task force and key employees who work in the early stages of developing relevant products and policies.

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Article
30 June 2019

Facebook’s civil rights audit progress report outlines recent changes & recommendations re content moderation, ad targeting, elections & accountability

Author: Civil rights audit team

"Facebook's civil rights audit - progress report," 20 June 2019

... One of the primary focus areas of this update is... three categories of content moderation concerns that have been most frequently raised by civil rights groups: 1) Over-enforcement of hate speech policies that takes the form of removing content where users condemn or speak out against hate speech; 2) Under-enforcement of hate speech policies where hateful content is left on the platform; and 3) Harassment of users on the platform... In March 2019, Facebook announced a new policy banning the explicit praise, support, or representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook... The Auditors believe that Facebook’s current white nationalism policy is too narrow...[and] recommends that Facebook expand the white nationalism policy to prohibit content which expressly praises, supports, or represents white nationalist ideology even if it does not explicitly use the terms “white nationalism” or “white separatism.”

... Facebook has committed to creating a new process where advertisers offering housing, employment, or credit opportunities will be diverted to a system that only offers a limited set of targeting options... this new system will restrict ad targeting options to help guard against discrimination or misuse... Facebook is currently working on expanding its voting-related policies to prohibit other forms of voter interference... [Finally] Facebook has created and institutionalized a Civil Rights Task Force... [which] will onboard strong civil rights expertise to support the Task Force’s work... [and] has committed to expert civil rights training for key groups of employees and managers.

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Article
24 December 2018

Civil society letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Author: NAACP, Muslim Advocates, Interfaith Center for Corporate Responsibility & 29 other civil society organisations

We write to express our profound disappointment regarding Facebook’s role in generating bigotry and hatred towards vulnerable communities and civil rights organizations... Recent news demonstrates... that Facebook was not only looking the other way in response to our concerns, but also has been actively working to undermine efforts by those who seek to hold the company responsible for abuses on the platform... In the face of clear evidence that Facebook was being used to broadcast viral propaganda and inspire deadly bigoted campaigns, the company’s leadership consistently either looked the other way, or actively worked to lobby against meaningful regulation, shifted public opinion against its allies, and personally attacked its critics... [Y]ou retained the services of Definers Public Affairs to investigate, undermine and attack our allies, mimicking the tactics of the worst, disreputable political operatives and hate groups... [I]t’s an absolute disgrace that Facebook sought to deflect criticism and discredit advocates by exploiting anti-Semitic campaigns against philanthropist George Soros.

... [W]e demand that Facebook immediately:

  • Reorganize Facebook’s board in order to enable greater accountability of the leadership team and to allow more diverse voices...
  • Publicly identify and apologize to all organizations targeted by Definers Public Affairs...
  • Remove Facebook’s Vice President of Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan, from his position...
  • Make public all findings and recommendations of the civil rights audit without revisions or redactions by January 31, 2019

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Company response
24 December 2018

Response from Facebook

Author: Facebook

We have been in touch with Muslim Advocates and will send them a response in January.

Download the full document here