“These decisions exposed a major hole in Facebook's understanding and application of civil rights,” the report, led by outside consultant Laura W. Murphy, said. “While these decisions were made ultimately at the highest level, we believe civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been and the resulting decisions were devastating.”
The auditors also disagreed with Facebook's hands-off approach to Trump's post including the phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts," which was widely seen as inciting violence against racial justice protesters. They strongly encouraged Facebook to remove the post, but said they were unable to talk to any company leaders until action was decided against. Twitter, meanwhile, appended a label to the same post on its service and prevented it from being retweeted.
The report is the latest blow to Facebook's checkered civil rights record, which is increasingly in the spotlight.
The long-awaited report is two years in the making, and Facebook is publicizing its findings as global protests against police brutality are pressuring large corporations to examine how their products and policies facilitate racism. The company has pointed to the audit as a sign it's serious about addressing civil rights, but critics say it remains to be seen if the report's recommendations are adopted.
Top company executives, including Mark Zuckerberg, met yesterday via Zoom with a broad swath of civil rights leaders to discuss concerns the company is profiting off hate, as hundreds of advertisers – including big brands such as Starbucks and Coca Cola – have temporarily suspended advertising on the service. Many of the concerns laid out in today's audit echo demands raised by civil rights leaders organizing that boycott .
The auditors criticized Facebook's fact-checking exemption for politicians.
The findings are sure to reinforce criticism Facebook bends and stretches its rules for powerful people, which has long been a concern of civil rights leaders. Facebook executive Nick Clegg announced last year the social network does not want to "referee" politicians' speech, explaining the company would not send posts from politicians to its third-party fact-checking partners.
“When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices,” the report said. “The prioritization of free expression over all other values, such as equality and non-discrimination, is deeply troubling to the Auditors.”
This policy has become particularly contentious heading into a presidential election. Democrats, including presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden, have aggressively criticized Facebook for failing to stop the flow of misinformation and hate they say is particularly spread by Trump. The Democratic National Committee yesterday issued a memo accusing the social network of failing to fulfill a series of promises following the 2016 election, including limiting polarizing and hyperpartisan content, creating a rigorous fact-checking program and limiting disinformation, as my colleague Isaac Stanley-Becker writes.
The auditors blasted the company's delay on hiring people with civil rights expertise.
The report's authors said Facebook has not made enough progress on creating a civil rights infrastructure within the company, and Murphy said that's growing very urgent as the 2020 election approaches. The leaders of the advertising boycott are also demanding the company hire a C-suite level executive with civil rights expertise.
“I think what's really needed is civil right expertise in the small rooms where decisions are ultimately made,” Murphy said in an interview with me and Elizabeth. “You can't do this just as consultants. You have to have people who know civil rights, who work at Facebook, who are part of the decision chain and can really be of use in the decision-making process before decisions are rendered.”
Facebook spokeswoman Ruchika Budhraja said the company is actively in the process of hiring for a civil rights role.
Civil rights leaders remain skeptical Facebook will follow through with its own recommendations.
They said the report's release is by no means an “end game” in their efforts to overhaul the social network. Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, said that work is increasingly critical in light of the intense polarization sweeping the country amid the pandemic and mass protests.
“There is so much at stake in this moment for the platform to get it right, for our democracy and for our communities,” she told me. “The work is going to continue. We’re going to continue to press, to push to make these changes even after the final report comes out.”
Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said in a blog post today the company has made progress on civil rights. But she acknowledged it still has a long way to go. "There are no quick fixes to these issues — nor should there be. This audit has been a deep analysis of how we can strengthen and advance civil rights at every level of our company — but it is the beginning of the journey, not the end."
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The organizers of the Facebook ad boycott are unimpressed by Zuckerberg's response to their demands.
Civil rights leaders used their meeting yesterday to press Zuckberg and Sandberg for changes at Facebook, including installing a top-level executive who will ensure the global platform does not fuel racism and radicalization, as I reported with Hamza Shaban.
Color of Change President Rashad Robinson described the meeting as “disappointing” during a news conference later Tuesday. The organizers of the campaign, known as #StopHateForProfit, provided a list of demands to the social network days before the meeting, he said, and the company did not have clear responses to their recommendations.
“Attending alone is not enough,” said Robinson, who participated in the meeting over Zoom, which lasted more than an hour. “At this point, we were expecting some very clear answers to the recommendations we put on the table. And we did not get them.”
The company has said it invests billions of dollars every year to ensure the safety of its users, and it partners with outside experts to update its policies.
“This meeting was an opportunity for us to hear from the campaign organizers and reaffirm our commitment to combating hate on our platform. They want Facebook to be free of hate speech and so do we,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said.
Nearly half of the FBI's 5,000 active counterintelligence cases now relate to China.
FBI Director Christopher A. Wray said Chinese spying and attempts to steal American technology are ballooning so quickly that the FBI is opening a new China-related counterintelligence case about every 10 hours, Pete Williams reports for NBC News.
“The greatest long-term threat to our nation's information and intellectual property and to our economic vitality is the counterintelligence and economic espionage threat from China,” Wray said, adding that China's actions are part of its effort to become the world's sole superpower by any means necessary.
The global pandemic has not slowed the trend.
“At this very moment, China is working to compromise American health care organizations, pharmaceutical companies and academic institutions conducting essential COVID-19 research,” he said.
He said China is not specifically targeting the upcoming election, but he said it “tries to target our policies 24/7.”
The Federal Trade Commission and the Justice Department are looking into allegations that TikTok failed to live up to a 2019 child privacy agreement.
A staffer in a Massachusetts tech policy group and another source said they took part in separate conference calls with FTC and Justice Department officials to discuss accusations TikTok had fallen short of an agreement announced in February 2019, Diane Bartz reports for Reuters.
The Center for Digital Democracy, Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood and others in May asked the FTC look into their allegations that TikTok failed to delete videos and personal information about users ages 13 and younger as it had agreed to do, among other issues. The agency slapped Musical.ly (which was TikTok's name before it rebranded) with a $5.7 million fine more than a year ago.
TikTok officials told Reuters that they take “safety seriously for all our users,” adding that in the United States they “accommodate users under 13 in a limited app experience that introduces additional safety and privacy protections designed specifically for a younger audience.”
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Inside the industry
Governments that rushed to push out coronavirus apps are scrambling to address complaints over data-mining or poor security practices.
Nearly 900,000 people downloaded a contact-tracing app in Norway the first week it was available, Natasha Singer reports in the New York Times. But now the country's data protection regulators have formally imposed an interim ban on the app as concerns mount that intensified surveillance outweighs the app’s as yet unproven public health benefits.
“Human rights groups and technologists have warned that the design of many apps put hundreds of millions of people at risk for stalking, scams, identity theft or oppressive government tracking — and could undermine trust in public health efforts,” she writes. “The problems have emerged just as some countries are poised to deploy even more intrusive technologies, including asking hundreds of thousands of workers to wear virus-tracking wristbands around the clock.”
- Peggy Johnson, who led Microsoft’s business development, will take over the struggling virtual reality start-up Magic Leap in August.
- The Aspen Tech Policy Hub will hold a webinar “Needles in Haystacks: Using Tech For Good” today at 12 p.m.
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee will host a hearing on consumer risks during the covid-19 pandemic tomorrow at 12 p.m.
- Carnegie's Partnership for Countering Influence Operations and Twitter will host an event on influence operations on Twitter tomorrow at 1 p.m.
Before you log off
“The Late Show” takes on the war on TikTok: