Facebook criticized ‘setbacks’ in civil rights audit


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, testifies during a Senate Intelligence Committee (Select) hearing where they testified about the influence of foreign operations on social media on September 5, 2018.

Tom Williams | CQ-Roll Call Group | fake pictures

Facebook has come under fire from civil rights experts in a report detailing the results of a two-year audit of the social media giant’s policies.

In the 89-page report, released Wednesday, auditors wrote that some “puzzling and heartbreaking decisions” made by Facebook were “significant setbacks for civil rights.”

They said that while the company has made progress since 2018 when the review was launched, it has also made “painful decisions in the past nine months with real-world consequences.”

“In our view, Facebook has made remarkable progress in some areas, but has not yet dedicated enough resources or moved fast enough to meet the myriad of civil rights challenges before it,” the auditors wrote. .

It comes at a particularly tense time for Facebook, which is grappling with an exodus of advertisers boycotting the tech giant over its inability to tackle the spread of hate speech and disinformation. The boycott has gained significant momentum in recent weeks, with big brands from Starbucks to Unilever pulling Facebook ads, and represents one of the biggest crises for the company in recent years.

The company’s shares, which hit a new record on Tuesday despite the advertising boycott, rose slightly in the morning trade.

The audit criticized Facebook’s decision to leave a post by President Donald Trump using the phrase “when the looting begins, the shooting begins” over violent protests in Minneapolis over the death of George Floyd, an unarmed black man.

“After the company publicly stopped looting and shooting, more than five political and merchandise ads were posted on Facebook sending the same dangerous message that ‘looters’ and ‘antifa terrorists’ can or should be fired by armed citizens “the auditors said. wrote

“Auditors do not believe Facebook is sufficiently in tune with deep concern about the issue of polarization and the way that algorithms used by Facebook inadvertently feed extreme and polarizing content.”

Facebook’s inaction over Trump’s comments prompted employees to organize a “virtual retreat” in protest of the company’s policies. The decision to keep the post in high contrast to the action taken by Twitter, which affixed a warning tag to a tweet containing the same Trump comments on the looting.

The auditors’ report called on Facebook to build a strong civil rights infrastructure, become more consistent and clear in its commitment to civil rights laws, and better balance civil rights with the issue of freedom of expression.

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said in a blog post that the audit revealed flaws in the company’s approach to civil rights, adding that “some of the starkest criticism” was “reserved for our decision to not delete recent posts by President Trump. ” She called it “the beginning of the journey, not the end,” and repeated an assertion that the timing of its release was unrelated to advertiser pressure.

“What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go,” Sandberg said. “As difficult as it has been to expose our shortcomings by experts, it has certainly been a really important process for our company. We urge companies in our industry and beyond to do the same.”

Sandberg, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and other Facebook officials who met with civil rights leaders on Tuesday. But those civil rights leaders say the meeting did not go well, and Rashad Robinson of the Color of Change advocacy organization called it a “disappointment.” Sandberg said Wednesday that the company was in the process of hiring a civil rights executive, one of the demands that organizers of the Facebook advertising boycott have made.

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