Facebook faulted for ‘significant’ civil rights setbacks, audit reveals
Missteps in Facebook’s efforts to clamp down on issues like voter suppression and hate speech have created “significant setbacks for civil rights,” a sweeping audit of the company’s practices found.
The two-year review released Wednesday and paid for by Facebook, concluded the company’s approach to civil rights issues “remains too reactive and piecemeal” despite the progress it has made in recent years to combat misinformation and discrimination.
The auditors blasted Facebook’s policy of not fact-checking posts from politicians in the interest of protecting free expression over equality and non-discrimination — an approach they called “deeply troubling.”
“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone,” Laura W. Murphy, the civil rights expert who led the audit, wrote in the 89-page report. “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 audit also criticized Facebook’s decision not to remove President Trump’s posts about “illegal” mail-in ballots, and chaos that ensued in Minneapolis after the George Floyd protests, drawing fire from civil-rights groups, including the NAACP, and some of the company’s own staffers.
The ballot comments “effectively allow the platform to be weaponized to suppress voting,” the auditors claimed.
“These decisions exposed a major hole in Facebook’s understanding and application of civil rights,” the report reads. “While these decisions were made ultimately at the highest level, we believe civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been and the resulting decisions were devastating.”
Facebook released comprehensive findings of the audit amid mounting criticism of its lax approach to hate speech, which has led big companies such as Verizon and Coca-Cola to join an advertising boycott of the company.
Facebook hired Murphy and the law firm Relman Colefax to conduct the audit in 2018 after civil-rights groups and some members of Congress encouraged the company to review its practices.
The findings made clear that Facebook has a long way to go to meaningfully address civil-rights concerns, Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg said. She pledged on Tuesday to implement proposals from the auditors and other advocates but said the move had nothing to do with the ad boycott.
“This audit has been a deep analysis of how we can strengthen and advance civil rights at every level of our company — but it is the beginning of the journey, not the end,” Sandberg said in a statement Wednesday.
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