Facebook is feeling the heat right now. The social media giant hired auditors to conduct a civil rights audit report and examine the company’s behavior. The results were not favorable.
Auditors criticized Facebook for allowing posts to remain active on the platform in the name of free speech above other values. Specifically, the report called Facebook out on its decision to let several posts by President Trump stay on the site although they violated the company’s policy on issues including hate speech, voter suppression, and incitement of violence. According to the site IOL, the two-year audit also found that Facebook provides a forum for white supremacy and white nationalism.
Facebook Civil Rights Audit Report
The report was prompted by calls from civil rights groups citing incidents like the 2017 “Unite the Right” march in Charlottesville, Virginia. An event page for the march appeared on Facebook for nearly a month before Facebook realized it violated community standards and deleted the page one day before the march. The march ended with one person dead and several others hurt after someone drove their car through the crowd.
“When you put free expression on top of every other consideration, I think civil rights considerations take more of a back seat,” Laura Murphy, civil rights lawyer and independent consultant who led the audit, told IOL.
The audit claims Facebook makes policy decisions that undermine civil rights progress. Auditors say the company also delayed taking action on calls to hire civil rights experts to senior leadership positions.
Auditors challenged Facebook’s decision to let several of President Trump’s posts stay on the site. A key post included when the president said, “when the looting starts, the shooting starts,” in reference to the protests in Minnesota that were sparked over the death of George Floyd.
Civil rights advocates claim the post appeared to encourage police to take violent action against protestors. In their report, auditors said that the decision to leave Trump’s post up has encouraged other calls for violence. This includes ads stating that armed citizens could or should shoot people who loot. These ads received more than 200,000 clicks. Facebook has since removed them.
The audit also challenged Facebook’s decision to let a post by President Trump on voting stay up. In it, he called the use of mail-in ballots in Nevada and Michigan “illegal” and “substantially fraudulent.” The White House never produced any proof for these claims.
Since mail-in ballots were legal forms of voter registration in both states, auditors claimed the posts should have been prohibited by Facebook’s voter interference policy. According to the report, this policy bans false representations about voter registration methods. But, Facebook executives disagreed.
Recently, Facebook did take down more than 100 accounts and pages tied to President Trump’s former campaign adviser Roger Stone. Facebook says Stone violated Facebook’s rules by using the accounts to manipulate public debate. The move came just days before President Trump commuted Stone’s sentence on several felony charges, including lying to Congress, and witness tampering as part of former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation. Stone had been sentenced to 40 months behind bars.
Making Some Progress
Despite areas of criticism, the report was happy with some of Facebook’s moves. The audit noted that the company made progress when it comes to policies that interfere with the voting process and in the census.
It also applauded Facebook’s decision to create a goal of increasing the number of African-American executives by 30% over the next five years and credited Facebook with plans to create a team to look at algorithmic bias.
But, auditors are asking for more. According to IOL, they say Facebook still has a long way to go when it comes to things like having more civil rights executives and managers in the company, as well as doing more to look at areas of bias and discrimination. They also want to see Facebook interpret its voter suppression policies more strongly.