Facebook Audit Finds Company’s Civil Rights Efforts Wanting

Facebook commissioned an audit, and civil rights attorney Laura Murphy with Relman Colfax attorneys delivered an 89-page report that praised the company for adding rules against voter suppression and creating a team to study algorithmic bias. But it also excoriated Facebook for “vexing and heartbreaking decisions [it] has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.” Meanwhile, Facebook is still working to address misinformation on its platform. It recently removed accounts belonging to Roger Stone, which were linked to fake accounts active around the 2016 presidential election.

The Wall Street Journal reports the audit states that, “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.”

The audit deems Facebook’s “approach to civil rights” as “too reactive and piecemeal,” accusing it of “not investing more in fighting organized hate against Muslims and Jews, inadequately policing political speech, and failing to root out many strains of white nationalist activity.” It added that the lack of progress “provokes legitimate questions about Facebook’s full-throated commitment” to change.

Facebook highlighted “areas where auditors said it improved, including expanded policies against census misinformation and voter suppression, settlement of a long-running case over discrimination in ad targeting, and efforts to increase diversity in its upper ranks.” But the audit also stated that it doesn’t believe that “Facebook is sufficiently attuned to the depth of concern on the issue of polarization and the way that the algorithms used by Facebook inadvertently fuel extreme and polarizing content.”

Facebook chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote that Facebook “would hire a civil-rights leader to help guide its efforts and consider other recommendations of the auditors.”

The New York Times reports that Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt, one of the leaders of the boycott campaign, said that he doesn’t “know if Mark [Zuckerberg] appreciates that hateful speech has harmful results, and that Facebook groups have real-world consequences.” At the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, chief executive Vanita Gupta noted the audit “has laid bare what we already know — Facebook is a platform plagued by civil rights shortcomings.”

The audit credits Facebook for “increasing the hiring of some in-house civil rights experts and creating an ad system that would no longer allow advertisers running housing, employment and credit ads in the United States to target users based on gender, age or ZIP code.” It added, “elevating free expression is a good thing …  [but] powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does,” creating a “hierarchy of speech … that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices.”

Elsewhere, NYT reports that Roger Stone’s personal accounts on Facebook and Instagram were “entwined with a U.S.-based network of accounts that had links to the Proud Boys, a group that promotes white supremacy.” Facebook banned the group in 2018, and its head of cybersecurity policy Nathaniel Gleicher said it “first started looking into this network as part of our investigation into the Proud Boys’ attempt to return to Facebook.” That investigation led him to Stone’s many personal accounts.

Related:
Why Facebook Failed Its Civil Rights Audit, Recode, 7/9/20
Why Some Hate Speech Continues to Elude Facebook’s AI Machinery, The Wall Street Journal, 7/9/20