Facebook Criticised By Own Audit For ‘Setback’ Of Civil Rights

Facebook’s decisions and actions over recent times has been criticised in an audit that was actually commissioned by the social network.

The two-year-long audit examined Facebook’s impact on the world, and was commissioned back in May 2018, a month after CEO Mark Zuckerberg had faced intense questioning at multiple congressional hearings following the Cambridge Analytica data sharing scandal.

Facebook is facing intense pressure at the moment. Organisers of an advertising boycott of the platform said they were left disappointed following a meeting with senior executives from the platform, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Image credit: Facebook

Audit criticism

Facebook’s senior management reportedly offered little in terms of concrete solutions to concerns raised by a number of US civil rights groups.

But now an internally commissioned civil rights audit has criticised the actions of the social networking giant over the past year.

“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,” wrote Sheryl Sandberg, chief operating officer.

“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,” said Sandberg. “While the audit was planned, and most of it carried out, long before recent events, its release couldn’t come at a more important time.”

The report focuses primarily on decisions made since June 2019, and it took issue with some of Facebook’s decisions over this period.

“Unfortunately, in our view Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal,” the report stated. “Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression.”

That said, the audit does praise Facebook’s decision to ban American advertisers from using its tools for housing and employment discrimination, and it’s belated decision to ban explicit support for white nationalism.

Changes promised

Facebook has already said it will make some – but not all – of the changes called for in the 100-page report.

“Some of the starkest criticism is reserved for our decision not to remove recent posts by President Trump,” wrote Sandberg.

“In the auditors’ view, the emphasis we’ve placed on free expression has not been adequately balanced by the critical value of non-discrimination,” she added. “The auditors also strongly disagree with our policy to not fact-check politicians, and believe that the end result means more voice for those in positions of power.”

Since late May, Twitter has repeatedly applied fact-checking warnings to certain tweets from US President Donald Trump.

But those same tweets remained unaltered on Facebook, as it continued its hands-off approach.

This approach prompted fierce criticism of Mark Zuckerberg’s stance from Facebook’s old guard (its earliest employees) and senior managers who led a virtual walkout at the firm.

Quiz: Think you know all about Facebook?

Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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