By Alexis Taylor
Special to the AFRO

Hate speech, misleading ads, and voter suppression tactics were major concerns of the Facebook civil rights audit, commissioned and released by the company this week.

The 89-page probe began two years ago in response to the growing concern for how civil rights are respected and promoted on the social media platform. 

A third and final report describes the company’s actions in the way of civil rights and voter suppression as a “seesaw of progress and setbacks.”

Laura Murphy (Courtesy Photo)

“In 2016 Russian forces were pretending to be Black organizations on facebook to discourage people from voting- telling them that their vote didn’t matter,” said Laura Murphy, president of Laura Murphy and Associates. 

“In 2020 the problem is domestic. It’s Americans using the platform to give out misinformation and tell people it’s not safe to vote- or that voting by mail is illegal.” 

“I am a big champion of free expression. I believe people should be able to say things that are disagreeable and offensive,” said Murphy. “But it’s a whole other thing to lie about methods of voting that are legal. That’s a whole other level of dangerous misinformation that I don’t believe should be permitted on the platform.”

The auditors slammed Facebook for standing by as a sitting president used the platform to misinform voters via “posts related to mail-in-ballots in Michigan and Nevada on May 20 and California on May 26.” 

The report called the decision to not intervene and delete the posts “vexing and heartbreaking.” 

Murphy told the AFRO that in 2020, it is imperative that every social media user ensure the content they view is coming from organizations and platforms with high standards for accuracy.

Aside from voter suppression issues, auditors bashed the company for not targeting White nationalist speech unless it contained the words “White nationalist” or “White separatism,” and recommended an in-house civil rights team. 

Facebook is based in Menlo Park, Calif, but has over 70 offices and 16 data centers around the world. The company claims to have access to three of the 7.6 billion people reported to live on earth by the U.S. Census Bureau.

In response to the report, the social media giant praised the auditors for their work and recommendations, acknowledged changes already made, and encouraged other social media platforms to fine comb their policies and adjust.

“Over the course of the audit process, we have made significant progress in a number of critical areas,” said Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer, in a statement. “The auditors have been extremely candid with their feedback, urging us to go further in a range of areas. While we won’t make every change they call for, we will put more of their proposals into practice.”

In March 2019 the company agreed to restrict targeted ads for housing, employment and credit cards aimed at specific age groups, genders or zip codes. There have also been modifications to how hate speech is monitored, with content reviewers that only target true hate speech-not activists condemning racism.

Facebook also agreed to “increase the number of leadership positions held by people of color by 30 percent, including 30 percent more Black people, over the next five years.”

The company already had measures in place to deter voter suppression, but after review “adopted a new policy prohibiting threats of violence relating to voting, voter registration or the outcome of elections.” 

Murphy says it’s not enough, and expressed concern about elected officials making coordinated, misinformed posts with no interference from Facebook. 

“They’ve  made a lot of good voter suppression policies, the auditors worked with them,” said Murphy. “The problem is the policy is only as good as its enforcement.”

“We saw that the policies weren’t enforced in regards to the Trump post and we think that sets a dangerous precedent for the kinds of posts that could be put up by other elected officials.”

“I don’t think Facebook has grasped the urgency of getting the proper interpretation of their policies right.”

 

Alexis Taylor

AFRO Staff Writer