Facebook: Hate Speech, Fake News & Bias

An audit report  into its own operations and practices that it commissioned has been condemned by Facebook. The two-year audit of Facebook's civil rights record found “serious setbacks” that have marred the social network's progress on matters such as hate speech, misinformation and bias. 

Facebook hired the audit’s leader, former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy, in 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues. Its 100-page report outlines a “seesaw of progress and setbacks” at the company.  

The report says that Facebook has not done enough to fight discrimination on its platform and has made some decisions that were “significant setbacks for civil rights,” according to the audit of the company’s policies and practices and does not 
not have the infrastructure for handling civil rights and for prioritising free expression on its platform over non-discrimination.  

In some decisions, Facebook did not seek civil rights expertise, the auditors said, potentially setting a “terrible” precedent that could affect the November general election and other speech issues.

Facebook has been under pressure for allowing hate speech, misinformation and other content that can go against people’s civil rights to fester on its site. While rivals like Twitter, Snap and Reddit have all taken action in recent weeks to label, downplay or ban such content, Facebook has said it will not do so because it believes in free speech. That has spurred civil rights groups to organise a “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign aimed against the social media company.

Facebook’s executives had previously pointed to the civil rights audit as a sign that the company was seriously grappling with what was on its site.

The report does say that Facebook has made progress on some issues, including increasing hiring of in-house civil rights experts over the past two years. Mr. Zuckerberg had also personally committed to building products that “advance racial justice, but criticises Facebook’s handling of speech, particularly speech from politicians, and the effects on users. The auditors said Facebook had been too willing to exempt politicians from abiding by its rules, allowing them to spread misinformation, harmful and divisive rhetoric, and even calls to violence.

In a series of recommendations, the auditors said Facebook needed to build a more robust civil rights infrastructure. They added that Facebook needed to be consistent in its policies and its enforcement, including “more concrete action and specific commitments to take steps to address concerns about algorithmic bias or discrimination.”

Facebook has pledged to make some commitments in response to the audit. In the report, the company said it would create a role for a senior vice president of civil rights leadership that will report up through the legal department.  Facebook also promised to develop new internal processes that support the civil rights of users, across its product and policy teams.

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 expressed skepticism that recommendations from the audit would ever be implemented, noting that past suggestions in previous reports had been overlooked.

New York Times:     ABC News:       Independent:        Facebook

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