Facebook has been vehemently condemned in a two-year report it commissioned into itself.
The audit found a series of “serious setbacks” that led to failures on issues including hate speech, misinformation and bias.
The 100-page report catalogues a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” on a wide variety of issues.
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Facebook’s chief operating officer, Sheryl Sandberg, said in a blog post that the company recognised it still had much to do on civil rights and in response to the problems raised in the report. She described the report as “the beginning of the journey, not the end”, though Facebook had already said that it would not take on every recommendation in the report.
Facebook hired the audit’s leader, former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy, in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues. It was commissioned soon after chief executive Mark Zuckerberg faced sharp questioning in front of Congress.
The audit recommends that Facebook build a “civil rights infrastructure” into every aspect of the company, as well as a “stronger interpretation” of existing voter suppression policies and more concrete action on algorithmic bias. Those suggestions are not binding, and there is no formal system in place to hold Facebook accountable for any of the audit’s findings.
“While the audit process has been meaningful, and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights,” the audit report states.
Those include Facebook’s decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking, even when President Donald Trump posted false information about voting by mail. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cited a commitment to free speech as a reason for allowing such posts to remain on the platform, even though the company has rules in place against voter suppression it could have used to take down — or at least add warning labels to — Trump’s posts.
Last month, Facebook announced it would begin labeling rule-breaking posts — even from politicians — going forward. But it is not clear if Trump’s previous controversial posts would have gotten the alert. The problem, critics have long said, is not so much about Facebook’s rules as how it enforces them.
“When you elevate free expression as your highest value, other values take a back seat,” Murphy told The Associated Press. The politician exemption, she said, “elevates the speech of people who are already powerful and disadvantages people who are not.”
More than 900 companies have joined an advertising boycott of Facebook to protest its handling of hate speech and misinformation.
Civil rights leaders who met virtually with Zuckerberg and other Facebook leaders Tuesday expressed skepticism that recommendations from the audit would ever be implemented, noting that past suggestions in previous reports had gone overlooked.
“What we get is recommendations that they end up not implementing,” said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color for Change, one of several civil rights nonprofits leading an organized boycott of Facebook advertising.
Additional reporting by Associated Press