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Facebook Investigation Finds ‘Serious Setbacks’ for Civil Rights


FILE - Facebook Chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies at a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington.
Facebook Investigation Finds ‘Serious Setbacks’ for Civil Rights
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An audit on Facebook’s civil rights record has found “serious setbacks” in its efforts to deal with issues such as hate speech and misinformation.

The social media company ordered the investigation two years ago to measure Facebook’s performance on major social issues. The findings were released on Wednesday.

The auditors reported that Facebook had taken "important steps forward in building a long-term civil rights accountability structure." But they said the steps do not go far enough “and should not be the end of Facebook's progress.”

The report says Facebook’s progress could be obscured by the “painful decisions” the company has made that “represent significant setbacks for civil rights."

The audit suggests that Facebook attempt to build a “civil rights infrastructure” into every part of the company.

The auditors expressed concern at how the company chose to deal with some Facebook posts by politicians, including U.S. President Donald Trump.

One of his messages was widely criticized for giving false information about the process of voting by mail. In another post – appearing on both Facebook and Twitter – Trump used the words: “Any difficulty and we will assume control but, when the looting starts, the shooting starts.”

The second message was posted in May during protests after the death of 46-year-old George Floyd. Some of the demonstrations turned violent.

Demonstrators protest, Thursday, June 4, 2020, near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci
Demonstrators protest, Thursday, June 4, 2020, near the White House in Washington, over the death of George Floyd, a black man who was in police custody in Minneapolis. Floyd died after being restrained by Minneapolis police officers. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Floyd died after a Minneapolis police officer held his leg on Floyd’s neck for more than eight minutes.

Twitter acted on both posts by Trump, saying they had violated its policies. In the first case, Twitter warned users that the claims about voting by mail had been judged to be false by investigators. In the second, Twitter hid Trump’s message, saying it violated its policy against “glorifying violence.”

Facebook did not take action against either post. Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg defended the company’s decision, saying it represented a commitment to free speech.

Facebook’s position was that the Trump messages “did not violate its community standards," the report said. But the auditors said they strongly disagreed, claiming the messages "clearly violated Facebook's policies."

The report said Facebook’s unwillingness to act seemed “to reflect a statement of values that protecting free expression is more important than other stated company values."

In this file photo, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill, Sept. 5, 2018, in Washington.
In this file photo, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg testifies before the Senate Intelligence Committee hearing on 'Foreign Influence Operations and Their Use of Social Media Platforms' on Capitol Hill, Sept. 5, 2018, in Washington.

Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer, Sheryl Sandberg, described the audit as a “really important process for our company.” She said in a statement the auditors had “looked at a wide range of civil rights issues, including our policies against hate.”

“We have made real progress over the years, but this work is never finished,” Sandberg said. “There are no quick fixes to these issues - nor should there be… What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go.”

The findings were announced at a time when hundreds of advertisers have joined a boycott of Facebook to pressure the company to do more to remove hate speech.

On Tuesday, organizers of the boycott held a video conference with Zuckerberg and Sandberg. After the meeting, activists said they saw “no commitment to action” from the company.

I’m Bryan Lynn.

Bryan Lynn wrote this story for Learning English, based on reports from The Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse. George Grow was the editor.

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Words in This Story

setback – n. a problem that makes something happen later or more slowly than it should

accountability – n. the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility

obscure – v. prevent something from being seen or heard

infrastructure – n. the basic systems a country uses in order to operate effectively

assume – v. to take a position of control

loot – v. to steal something from a place

glorify v. to describe or represent something in a way that makes it seem better or more important

commitment – n. a promise or firm decision to do something

standard- n. a level of quality, achievement, etc., that is considered acceptable or desirable

reflect – v. to think about in a serious and careful way

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