Facebook promises audit of hate speech record, but civil rights groups say it falls short to prevent boycott
Facebook announced a series of new measures it will adopt that it hopes will show it is making progress scrubbing hate speech from the social network. But, in what is becoming a familiar back-and-forth, civil rights groups say the company still falls short of meeting its demands in a brand boycott that is growing by the day.
On Monday, Facebook posted the new steps it would take that address one of the demands of the protesters, that the social network allows more independent oversight of how offensive content spreads. Facebook announced it would undergo an "external audit on our content moderation systems."
“We’re reaching out to key stakeholders spanning government regulators, civil society, and the advertising industry as this is designed,” Facebook said in the post. “This separate third-party audit will be completed by a reputable firm and include the incidence of violating content.”
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO of the Anti-Defamation League, one of the organizations behind the movement to freeze advertising, said that Monday’s update did not address enough of the groups’ issues. The groups, which have called their campaign “Stop Hate for Profit,” have 10 demands, including third-party audits; more human moderation; and more assurances for brands that ads do not appear alongside offensive content.
“This just shows that Facebook isn’t willing to make meaningful change yet,” Greenblatt said in an email response to Facebook. “They have essentially answered 'no' to all 10 recommended next steps.”
Since mid-June, civil rights groups including the NAACP, Anti-Defamation League, Color of Change, Sleeping Giants and others have been recruiting brands to pledge to freeze advertising on Facebook in July. The groups are concerned about disinformation and hate speech on the social network.
On Monday, the “Stop Hate for Profit” organization wrote a blog post referring to the need for independent audits.
“Can you commit that the third-party audit of hate and misinformation will not be done by someone with financial ties to Facebook, that the audit will be concluded by the end of the year, and that the results will be made public?,” Stop Hate for Profit said. “Can you also commit that it will consider not just what Facebook considers hate and misinformation under its narrow terms of service but also what civil rights groups have determined is problematic (even if Facebook doesn’t agree), like lies in political ads and violent conspiracy theories? Will you commit to submitting to such independent, third-party audits on an annual basis?”
Facebook said it would tap Media Rating Council, an advisory board, to independently authenticate its moderation efforts on hate speech and other content.
It was unclear that these changes would be enough to call off the boycott that is set to start officially this week. On Monday, more brands were still coming forward to say they would freeze advertising on Facebook, including Ford, The Clorox Co., Adidas and Edgewell. They joined Verizon, Starbucks, Coca-Cola, Unilever and many others. Some companies are even pulling money from other digital platforms, like Twitter and YouTube, to send a message that the internet ad ecosystem needs fixing.
Facebook has been huddling with advertisers and brands for weeks trying to explain its policies and how it handles harmful content. The company has repeatedly said that it can find 89 percent of hate speech before it even reaches the public and acts swiftly against the rest.
On Friday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced more updates that would give it more tools to remove ads that spread hateful messages against groups like immigrants. It also made a new mechanism whereby it can label messages from public officials like President Donald Trump. Facebook would put an advisory note on messages that break its rules but still allow them to stay on the platform in the interests of informing the public.
NAACP president Derrick Johnson criticized Zuckerberg's policies as ineffective. “Facebook is supporting hate, not 'free speech'” Johnson said on Friday. “I am incredibly concerned with Zuckerberg's response today. Facebook's inactions are costing us lives.”