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Facebook Making Progress on Civil Rights Issues, But Trump Posts, Other Decisions Represent 'Serious Setbacks' - Audit

Civil rights experts, charged with auditing Facebook's content rules, observed "painful decisions over the last nine months" that had "real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights".

Facebook Inc.  (FB) - Get Meta Platforms Inc. Class A Report was criticized in a report probing the social media group's rules on content publication Wednesday, with auditors urging it to do more to combat hate speech and voter suppression efforts in the run-up to this year's Presidential elections. 

Former American Civil Liberties Union leader Laura Murphy, who headed the two-year audit of Facebook's content publishing practices along with Megan Cacace, a partner in the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, expressed concern for Facebook's policy of not fact-checking on posts from politicians, and said the group needs to intensify its efforts to eliminate content that could lead to voter suppression or be considered hate speech. The audit also said Facebook had made recent choices on content -- including posts from President Donald Trump -- that have lead to "serious setbacks for civil rights" in the United States. 

"When we agreed to become the first social media company to undertake an audit of this kind, at the encouragement of the civil rights community, no one knew that the final report would be published at a time when racial injustice and police brutality is bringing millions of people to the streets — both at home and abroad — to campaign for change," said Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg. 

"We also had no idea that it would be published at a time when Facebook itself has faced heavy criticism from many in the civil rights community about hateful content on our platform and is subject to a boycott by a number of advertisers," she added.

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Facebook shares were marked 1.75% lower in early trading Wednesday following the release of the audit to change hands at $236.61 each.

Facebook is facing renewed pressure on its content policies from more than 900 companies, including some of the biggest brand advertising spenders in the world.

Starbucks  (SBUX) - Get Starbucks Corporation Report, Coca-Cola  (KO) - Get Coca-Cola Company Report, Diageo  (DEO) - Get Diageo Plc Report and Unilever  (UL) - Get Unilever Plc Report are just a few of the scores of global brand giants that have said they will pause social media ad spending for the month of July -- and in some cases until the end of the year -- unless companies such as Facebook do more to eradicate hate speech and misinformation on their social media platforms. 

"We will pause advertising on all social media platforms while we continue discussions internally, with our media partners and with civil rights organizations in the effort to stop the spread of hate speech," Starbucks said last week.

Facebook, which earned more than $70 billion in advertizing revenue last year, said Friday that it would take "extra precautions" to safeguard the platform in the run-up to the U.S. elections in November, and pledged to take down false information about voting while implementing a new labeling system for "newsworthy" posts that would otherwise violate its policies.