Facebook civil-rights record hammered in own review

Facebook's "vexing and heartbreaking" decisions are causing significant setbacks for civil rights, an audit commissioned by the company says.

The two-year-long review says its actions have left many activists "disheartened, frustrated and angry".

Facebook has already said it will make some – but not all – of the changes called for in the 100-page report.

The official number of advertisers boycotting Facebook over its civil-rights policy is now at nearly 1,000.

Facebook commissioned the review in May 2018, a month after founder Mark Zuckerberg faced intense questioning at a congressional hearing.

"With each success, the auditors became more hopeful that Facebook would develop a more coherent and positive plan of action that demonstrated, in word and deed, the company's commitment to civil rights," it says.

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"Unfortunately, in our view Facebook's approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal.

"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."

But the audit report also praises Facebook for progress in some areas, such as its improved consultations with rights groups.

Shortcomings exposed

Facebook said the report was "the beginning of the journey, not the end".

"What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go," it said.

"As hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company."

The auditors also referenced Facebook's decision to allow a controversial post from US President Donald Trump to remain on the platform.

"When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices," the report says.

It calls for:

  • a more effective policy to tackle voter suppression that "prohibits content like the Trump voting posts" and more consistent enforcement ahead of the US presidential election at the start of November
  • civil rights to be "more visible" and made a consistent priority in Facebook's decision-making
  • Facebook to invest more in addressing "organised hate" against Muslim, Jewish people and other groups
  • a ban on the "praise" and "support" of the ideas underpinning white nationalism "even where the terms themselves are not used"
  • more concrete, specific actions to address worries about bias in the company's algorithms

"This report outlines a number of positive and consequential steps that the company has taken but 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," it adds.

Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said the audit had already had a "profound effect" on the company and Facebook had already acted on many of its recommendations.

"While we won't be making every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice soon," she said.

She also noted that two years ago, the company could not have predicted the audit would be published at a time of a major advertising boycott of Facebook.

'Vitriolic hate'

Organisers of the boycott said a meeting with Facebook's senior management this week, including Ms Sandberg and Mr Zuckerberg, had been "disappointing".

"It was abundantly clear in our meeting today that Mark Zuckerberg and the Facebook team iRead More – Source