Facebook has ‘devastating’ civil rights record, its own audit says

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A two-year audit of Facebook’s civil rights record found that the company’s elevation of free expression – especially by politicians – above other values has hurt its progress on other matters like discrimination, elections interference and protecting vulnerable users.

Facebook hired former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues.

The final 100-page report said while the company has made progress on issues such as voter suppression and cracking down on hate groups, “those gains could be obscured by the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.”

Here are five takeaways from the audit.

Election interference

Facebook has expanded its voter suppression policy since the audit began.

This includes banning posts about violence relating to voting, voter registration or the outcome of elections, as well as threats that voting will lead to law enforcement action (such as immigration agents arresting people, for instance). But the company needs a “stronger interpretation” of its policies against voter suppression, the audit said.

This includes prohibiting posts such as US President Donald Trump’s in May that call into question the integrity of voting by mail.

Facebook’s decision to leave up these posts – along with another one many saw as threatening violence against protesters – “have caused considerable alarm for the auditors and the civil rights community,” the report said.

“These decisions exposed a major hole in Facebook’s understanding and application of civil rights,” the audit said, calling the decisions “devastating.”

Organised hate

Facebook reported in May that in the first three months of 2020, it removed about 4.7 million posts connected to organised hate; an increase of more than 3 million from the end of 2019. But “while this is an impressive figure,” the auditors said it’s not clear if this means Facebook removed more material or there was more material from organised hate groups in the first place.

The company, the auditors said, has also not implemented their recommendation to prohibit veiled and not just explicit references to white nationalist or white separatist ideology.

The company also needs to invest more resources to address organised hate against Muslims, Jews and other targeted groups on the platform, the audit said. Continue reading

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