Facebook’s own auditor on Civil Rights and related issues like hate speech has found the platform to be lacking in meaningful change, and to have even harmed the progress of civil rights in the U.S.
Amid an ongoing ad boycott over Facebook’s allowance and promotion of hate speech on its platforms, and just one day after a meeting with the civil rights groups behind the boycott, (a meeting the groups claimed was essentially pointless), Facebook has suddenly released the third and final installment of a Civil Rights review started two years ago due to concern over political disinformation on the platform. But even the auditor who led the review, Laura Murphy, previously of the ACLU, is disappointed in Facebook’s lack of progress on issues like the proliferation of hate speech, racism and voter suppression on the platform.
“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real-world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” Murphy said in a statement within the audit report.
She added that even with the “positive and consequential” changes Facebook has made since the audit process began, “At this point in history, the auditors are concerned that those gains could be obscured by the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.”
As WWD reported, Facebook is also said to be starting this year a separate independent audit of its current system for handling hate speech, to be led by one of the “big three” consulting firms. The “big three” are generally considered to be McKinsey, Boston Consulting Group and Bain & Co. A report on the audit is expected to be made public, according to a source. Facebook’s current system of monitoring content is led by AI, which flags certain posts for manual review by one of 35,000 people the company has hired for the specific purpose.
In a blog post regarding the audit report, Facebook chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg said it is “the beginning of the journey, not the end.”
“What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go,” she wrote. “As hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company.”
Sandberg did not address in her post if or how Facebook would address the findings of the audit and its recommendations.
In her audit, one of Murphy’s recommendations was for Facebook to “go beyond” its current method of monitoring hate speech, implemented only last year. Facebook focuses on prohibiting “explicit references” to white supremacy and nationalism. Murphy said hate speech prohibitions should include “express praise, support and representation of white separatism and white nationalism even where the terms themselves are not used.”
So even while undergoing an audit of its practices (which Facebook only announced was being released yesterday, immediately after its meeting with the groups behind the ad boycott) Facebook has continued to host content on its platform that is deemed by many as racist. It has also continued to promote extremist content to users through its algorithm and allowed posts that spread disinformation to remain up and unflagged in any way, so long as the user posting is considered “newsworthy.”
President Trump has posted a number of times with misinformation regarding voting and voting rights, as well as racially charged rhetoric that many see as promoting violence, including the recent, “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” regarding growing protests of the police killing of George Floyd. Facebook’s decision that the post did not fall within its policy on speech that incites violence prompted the recent ad boycott.
Nevertheless, Murphy noted Facebook has made some changes over the course of the audit. It’s committed to hiring “an executive at the [vice president] level to lead its work on civil rights” and broader civil rights training for workers; banning white supremacist content, and to have 30 percent of leadership positions be held by Black people within five years.
This initially led her and the audit team to be “hopeful” that a “more coherent” plan of action on such issues would be the result. It has not been.
“Unfortunately, in our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal,” Murphy wrote. “Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression.”
In recent weeks, groups Color of Change, the NAACP, the Anti-Defamation League seem to largely agree on Murphy’s point of such groups becoming “disheartened, frustrated and angry.”
All have met with Facebook founder and chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operations officer Sheryl Sandberg a number of times over the years, and little has changed with regard to how the company moderates racist and hate content. And the Facebook leaders are said to remain largely indifferent even after meeting with the groups yet again on Tuesday.
“It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team is not yet ready to address the vitriolic hate on their platform,” CoC, the NAACP and the ADL said in a statement after the Tuesday meeting. “Instead of actually responding to the demands of dozens of the platform’s largest advertisers that have joined the #StopHateforProfit ad boycott during the month of July, Facebook wants us to accept the same old rhetoric, repackaged as a fresh response.”
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