Carolyn Wysinger is a teacher and activist who says that Facebook censors her for discussing online racism, sometimes blocking it from her account. USA TODAY
A report released Wednesday by civil rights auditors warns that Facebook’s failure to contain toxic speech, racism and disinformation could have serious repercussions in the presidential elections and could even suppress voter participation.
The report, the result of an internal civil rights audit of years of Facebook policies and practices, had a particular exception with the company’s decision not to overthrow inflammatory rhetoric and false claims by President Donald Trump.
“The prioritization of freedom of expression over all other values, such as equality and non-discrimination, is deeply worrying,” wrote civil rights activist Laura Murphy in the audit, initiated in 2018 at the request of civil rights organizations and some members of the Congress. .
What civil rights groups want: Stop hate speech and harass black users on Facebook
Civil rights leaders condemn Zuckerberg: Accusing Facebook of fueling racial hatred and violence
The report, prepared with the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, asks Facebook to apply its voter suppression policies more rigorously and consistently and to hire an experienced civil rights executive to guide veterinary policies and products, steps that auditors say they are long overdue. Facebook said on Tuesday that it is hiring a vice president for civil rights who will report to the company’s legal director.
Criticism of the company has intensified since protests across the country over the death of George Floyd brought the issue of racial justice to the forefront.
Facebook maintains that it is making progress in identifying and removing wrong information and other harmful and divisive content.
On this June 24, 2020, the photo in the archive, Tyshawn, 9, on the left, and his brother Tyler, 11, on the right, from Baltimore, display signs saying “Black Lives Matter” and “I Can’t Breathe”, as they sit on a concrete barrier near a police line while protesters protest along a section of 16th Street that has been renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington. Thousands of black activists from across the U.S. will host the 2020 National Black Convention on August 28, 2020, via live broadcast, to produce a new political agenda based on the protests that followed the death of George Floyd. (Photo: Jacquelyn Martin, AP)
“This audit was a thorough analysis of how we can strengthen and promote civil rights at all levels of our company,” wrote Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, in a Facebook post on Wednesday. “We have a long way to go – but we are making progress.”
On Tuesday, an hour-long meeting held by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and top executives from civil rights groups did little to calm criticism.
Murphy told USA Today that more pressure should be put on Facebook.
“We have to do more to convince Facebook’s leadership in all the ways that people will try to arm the platform to suppress the vote,” Murphy said in an interview. “We have to keep pressing and insisting that they do a better job of protecting votes.”
The prevailing fear among dozens of civil rights organizations and hundreds of defenders consulted by auditors, that Facebook will repeat the mistakes of the 2016 presidential election when black Americans and other minorities were targeted by Russian operations that seek to sow racial division and misinform. the plants. Only this time, they fear, efforts to suppress participation will not come from abroad.
“In 2016, the problem was clearly foreign actors, and in 2020, the problem is domestic actors,” said Murphy. “Facebook has enough policies to deal with domestic actors, but the auditors don’t agree with the way they interpreted those policies and that is what is giving us heartburn.”
Zuckerberg defended his direct approach to politicians and Trump, emphasizing Facebook’s commitment to freedom of expression, even when competitors like Twitter and Snapchat label or minimize Trump’s posts on their platforms.
At issue are Trump’s posts on Facebook, two of which made inaccurate statements about the ballots in the November elections, according to the audit. The third appeared to threaten violence against Black Lives Matter protesters, which Murphy compared to putting a match in a bait box.
“We are in a very difficult time and anything that incites violence must be taken very seriously,” she said.
Civil rights activist Laura Murphy has been advising Facebook. (Photo: Laura Murphy & Associates)
Although Facebook suppressed the anti-vaccination movement and the misinformation of COVID-19, the failure to remove these posts “exposed a huge hole in the understanding and application of Facebook’s civil rights,” the audit found.
When powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules as other Facebook users, “a hierarchy of discourse is created that favors certain voices over less powerful ones,” Murphy wrote.
In May and June, I invited Mark Zuckerberg to solve this problem.
These flaws pose a real danger to people of color, especially when it comes to protecting voting rights in the upcoming 2020 elections.
We can’t take @ Facebook’s usual inactions as usual.
– Senator Bob Menendez (@SenatorMenendez) July 8, 2020
Jessica J. González, co-CEO of Free Press and co-founder of Change the Terms, asked Facebook to take action.
“Facebook policy and enforcement deliberately ignore and even allow the problem of hate sellers on the platform, including 100 active white supremacists. There should not be a ‘final’ civil rights audit when the wrong information about hatred and the elections continues to put our lives and democracy at risk, “González said in a statement.” Mark Zuckerberg cannot get Facebook to stop hateful activity from spreading when he is unable to recognize how far behind Facebook it really is when it comes to protecting people of color from the danger that the platform continues to pose in our lives. “
Hundreds of companies publish ads: will the boycott of Facebook advertising force the social media company to change?
Sheryl Sandberg in boycott: Facebook will improve removal of hate speech
Hundreds of companies, including major brands Unilever, Ford and Pfizer, received advertising from Facebook this month to protest the spread of racial hatred, white supremacy and violent threats on Facebook and Instagram. The boycott organized by the civil rights leaders known as #StopHateForProfit followed a retreat from Facebook employees who carried out a virtual “standstill” last month.
“I think the company’s leadership realizes that the concern for these positions is not diminishing, and I hope there will be changes, but I don’t have a crystal ball,” said Murphy.
Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook CEO, testifies before the House Energy and Commerce Committee on April 11, 2018. (Photo: Jack Gruber, USA TODAY)
Facebook declined to say whether Zuckerberg would change its policies. He recently agreed to label posts by politicians who violate Facebook rules. Murphy told USA TODAY that he wants Facebook to consider freedom of expression “in a way that is balanced by civil rights concerns.”
“I think Mark has received more civil rights memorandums and has had more meetings with civil rights leaders in the past two months than ever before,” said Murphy. “You cannot be at this point in our history and not hear what people are saying about the thirst for equality and due process, equity and justice.”
While Facebook has made gains in areas such as cracking down on discriminatory targets for housing, employment, credit advertising and erroneous census information, Murphy said, the audit makes other recommendations:
- Dedicate more resources to studying how hate and harassment target marginalized communities and commit to banning all references to white nationalism and separatism, not just explicit ones.
- Create a diverse and inclusive workforce and culture to improve the way product and policy decisions are made
- Take more concrete steps and make specific commitments to deal with prejudice or algorithmic discrimination.
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