The heat on Facebook over its failures to address widespread issues related to civil rights and hate speech on its platform shows no signs of cooling.
Civil rights groups, brands and marketing experts are still critical of the platform after findings of a 2-year-long independent civil rights audit released today showed that the social network has a lot more work to do.
On Tuesday, in an effort to head off the Stop Hate for Profit campaign asking advertisers to boycott Facebook, executives including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg met with representatives from four civil rights and industry groups behind the effort: the Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Free Press and the NAACP.
“They want Facebook to be free of hate speech, and so do we,” Facebook policy communications director Andy Stone said in a statement. “We know we will be judged by our actions, not by our words, and we are grateful to these groups and many others for their continued engagement.”
However, Facebook executives used “the same old talking points” that made the meeting feel like “nothing more than a PR exercise,” according to a statement by Free Press co-CEO Jessica J. González.
“I was hoping to see deep humility and reflection about the outsized role that Facebook plays in shaping beliefs, opinions and behavior, and the many harms it’s caused and facilitated in real life,” González said.
Facebook also released the findings of the independent civil rights audit, conducted by civil liberties experts and lawyers Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, who’s a partner in the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax.
In an online post, Sandberg acknowledged that the report was released as Facebook itself has faced “heavy criticism” over “hateful content on our platform.”
“While the audit was planned, and most of it carried out, long before recent events, its release couldn’t come at a more important time,” Sandberg said.
In the introduction to the 89-page report, Murphy addressed both accomplishments and shortcomings by the platform, writing that auditors “watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real-world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights.”
She offered several examples of progress, highlighted by Facebook’s settlement of an Equal Opportunity Employment Commission complaint filed in September 2018 regarding unlawful discrimination by advertisers promoting housing, employment or credit opportunities, and the changes Facebook made as a result.
She acknowledged the company’s commitments to hiring a vp-level executive to focus on civil rights and creating a Civil Rights Task Force made up of senior leadership across multiple verticals, although a timeline was not given. “These commitments must be approached with urgency,” she wrote.
Murphy also pointed to:
- Improved processes involving transparency when community standards are violated and for content moderation regarding white nationalism and white separatism
- More frequent consultations with civil rights leaders
- Chief diversity officer Maxine Williams reporting directly to Sandberg
- Commitments to increase spending with suppliers owned by Black people and other minorities, women, veterans, LGBTQ and disabled people, along with the social network’s recent pledge to invest $100 million in Black-owned small businesses, content creators and nonprofits
- Investing in a dedicated team to study artificial intelligence methodologies and address algorithmic bias
- Privacy reviews of every new product as part of the company’s $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission following the Cambridge Analytica scandal
“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,” Murphy wrote. “Unfortunately, in our view, Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal.”