“Following the 2016 election, Facebook made a number of public promises of change,” the memo reads. “As the company makes new commitments in response to renewed public criticism, it is worth reviewing carefully how the company’s actions measure up to its words. In many cases, as documented below, Facebook failed to keep its promises.”
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone defended the company’s approach, pointing to new personnel and new features added over the past four years.
“Since 2016, Facebook has worked to secure our platforms from interference, tripled the number of people working on safety and security, and added political advertising transparency and controls, all while fighting misinformation with the help of an unmatched global network of over 70 fact-checking organizations including 10 in the U.S.," he said in a statement.
The list of grievances from the DNC adds to a chorus of criticism that has deepened since nationwide protests over the police killing of George Floyd brought issues of race and discrimination newly to the fore. More than 500 brands — including Coca-Cola, Hershey and Unilever — have paused advertising on Facebook as part of the #StopHateforProfit campaign.
Some of the campaign’s leaders, including representatives from the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, were to meet Tuesday with Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, and Sheryl Sandberg, its chief operating officer.
The memo also reflects intensifying ill will between the Democratic Party and the Silicon Valley giant. Top campaign aides to Joe Biden, the presumptive Democratic nominee for president, have issued a series of complaints to Facebook about how it enforces its rules for politicians, among other issues. The latest, sent last week by Biden’s campaign manager, Jen O’Malley Dillon, drew on revelations in a Washington Post article detailing Facebook’s history of reworking its policies to accommodate inflammatory rhetoric and false claims from President Trump, dating to his time as a candidate in 2015.
Tuesday’s memo from the DNC addresses similar concerns, claiming that rules appearing to crack down on election-related misinformation in fact “uniformly allowed President Trump to lie about methods of voting in the 2020 election, even though the lies violate the clear text of the policy.” In a series of recent posts left untouched by Facebook, the president asserted without evidence that foreign countries would print mail-in ballots and that ballots would be “robbed,” among other unsubstantiated claims that experts say sow doubt about a safe and effective method of voting.
“Explaining these decisions over email to the DNC, Facebook went so far as to state that there were no authoritative sources that could disprove allegations of widespread ballot theft from mailboxes; and, therefore, that the post was appropriate,” the memo reads.
At the same time, the DNC’s objections go beyond the president’s use of the platform. Among the memo’s other targets are the spread of false and misleading content in private groups, which Facebook has promoted as akin to “living rooms" but the party claims are instead “bastions of disinformation.” It also argues that Facebook’s underlying algorithms continue to create incentives for divisive and hateful content, a problem supercharged by policies that let users operate networks of pages to push sensationalistic material.
Facebook maintains it has made strides in rooting out misinformation and hateful content, and last month announced a new initiative that seeks to help 4 million people register to vote this year. The company has taken additional steps that it says are designed to protect the integrity of the upcoming election. And it touts “investments to fight polarization,” including additional restrictions on the types of pages and groups that are recommended to people, as well as changes to the News Feed that prioritize posts from friends and family over news content.
Addressing the snowballing ad boycott in a Facebook post Tuesday morning, Sandberg vowed, “We are making changes — not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do.” The company is preparing to release an independent civil rights audit on Wednesday.
“Facebook stands firmly against hate,” Sandberg wrote.