Facebook Decisions Led to ‘Significant Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds

The social network has prioritized free expression at the expense of weeding out discrimination, according to audit by civil rights experts

Facebook hasn’t done enough to curb discrimination and “hate speech” on its platform, according to an audit conducted by civil rights experts. The audit, commissioned by Facebook and released on Wednesday, said the tech giant has made “vexing and heartbreaking” decisions in recent years that have led to “significant setbacks for civil rights.”

The audit comes after a two year review from Megan Cacace and Laura W. Murphy, two civil rights attorneys with decades of experience. Both Cacace and Murphy said that while Facebook has made strides in the past two years to curb discrimination, the company’s “reactive and piecemeal” approach hasn’t gone far enough. Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s commitment to free expression, they said, has left many civil rights leaders “frustrated and angry” that the company hasn’t been more proactive in removing borderline content.

“In our view Facebook has made notable progress in some areas, but it has not yet devoted enough resources or moved with sufficient speed to tackle the multitude of civil rights challenges that are before it,” the audit said.

A recent example where Facebook fell short, according to the audit, is in its handling of President Trump’s account. The auditors said Facebook’s decision to not remove or add a warning label to the president’s recent post claiming “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” was a significant error. Facebook’s rationale for not removing the post — that it was worth keeping up because it dealt with “state action” — failed to recognize how the statement could “legitimize violence” against minorities, according to the audit.

The auditors listed several steps they would like to see Facebook take, including adding more resources to “study and address organized hate against Muslims, Jews, and other targeted groups on the platform,” and doing more to prohibit “praise, support and representation” of white nationalism.

The audit also comes as Facebook is grappling with an ad boycott led by several civil rights groups, including the Anti-Defamation League and Color of Change. The #StopHateForProfit campaign, as it’s been dubbed, has accused Facebook and CEO Mark Zuckerberg of allowing extremists to promote violence, thanks to Facebook’s laissez faire moderation policies in comparison to other tech companies. The campaign, which has gained support from major companies like Levi Strauss, Honda and Unilever,  also claims Facebook isn’t doing enough to “protect” its Black and Jewish users from vile comments.

In response, Facebook said it would be expanding its hate speech rules and also start adding notifications to “newsworthy” posts from politicians that otherwise break company policies.

Zuckerberg held a virtual call with the campaign’s organizers on Tuesday, but the call did little to bring the two sides closer together.

“The meeting we just left was a disappointment,” Color Of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson said afterwards. “They showed up to the meeting expecting an A for attendance.”

So far, the ad boycott doesn’t appear to be worrying investors too much. Facebook is currently trading near it’s all-time high on Wall Street, after initially taking a hit to its share price in late June.