Facebook Civil Rights Audit Takes Important Steps, Not Significant Strides, Says Change the Terms Coalition

Today, Facebook released a civil rights audit of their platform in response to a demand from countless civil, human and digital rights organizations with input from more than 90 groups, including members of the Change the Terms coalition. Members of Change the Terms released the following statements on the audit, following their work with Facebook over the past year to develop a civil rights accountability structure and address the innumerable harms documented on the platform, undermining public safety, democracy and civil society:

Said Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and member of Change the Terms:

“We cannot rely on Facebook to tell us whether the changes they are making to address hateful activity on their platform protect their diverse users. In this audit, the company commits to improvements consistent with Change the Terms’ recommendations in some key areas, including moving responsibility for addressing hateful activities to senior management and tackling teams of trolls and bots pushing hate in the election context. But, we still need much broader transparency so independent researchers can look at data and answer whether these changes make a difference.

“Given the tragic mass killings at the mosques in Christchurch livestreamed on Facebook Live, we hoped Facebook would go much further, much faster. Yet Facebook remains turtle slow to change. They need to move now to build a diverse team of experts with real authority to oversee ending hate on their platform to get it moving. Relying primarily on monthly meetings of executives and a couple of outside consultants with civil rights expertise is a step forward but insufficient. For far too long, white supremacists and other hate groups have used Facebook to spread hate, recruit, and organize events. Every moment that hateful activity lives online, is another opportunity for violent movements to recruit, fundraise, harass, and plan attacks that have tragically taken the lives of too many people.”

Said Change the Terms member Jessica J. González, Vice President of Strategy and Senior Counsel at Free Press:

“Our call for change has always been rooted in applying a civil rights lens to the way technology companies operate. The lack of diverse leadership at leading social media sites and inadequate attention to the specific harms posed to women and people of color using online platforms have resulted in a hostile environment that is not only persisting but metastasizing at a rapid rate. Today Facebook makes some significant commitments, but its piecemeal approach to responding to hateful activity leaves much to be desired. The future success or demise of Facebook will depend on how it responds to the hateful activity that threatens billions of users and their families now.”

Said Keegan Hankes, Interim Research Director at Southern Poverty Law Center, a Change the Terms partner:

“The modern day battle against offline violence, hate and voter suppression is online and today, Facebook did not take the great responsibility that comes with its great power seriously enough. While we appreciate that the company has engaged with the civil rights community on next steps, the report released by Facebook today is still a far cry from the robust audit that groups in our coalition have been demanding for our communities. Facebook’s so-called audit is simply too heavy on platitudes and not comprehensive enough. We cannot move forward to protect targeted groups harmed by activity on the platform unless we have both an unvarnished look at the cesspools of hate and misinformation growing and spreading on Facebook with the company’s detailed plan for action to be taken on an urgent timeline, and this update provided the public with neither.”

The Change the Terms coalition has urged major tech companies, including Facebook, to not only strengthen their terms and services against hateful content but to adopt specific corporate policies on transparency, enforcement and evaluation. Change the Terms’ model corporate policies, including specific provisions on defining hateful activity, monitoring and enforcing these terms, and can be found here: https://www.changetheterms.org/terms.

We applaud our coalition partners, including Color of Change and Muslim Advocates, leading the call for structural change and publicly available reports. Our coalition continues to demand that combines the most advanced technological solutions with diverse, well-supported, and highly-trained staff fluent in the culture, language and history of the regions where content is monitored. We also urge Facebook to create a transparent and neutral online appeal process and provide quarterly online reports to the public summarizing how the company is flagging content and enforcing their terms on hateful activity.

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Change the Terms is a coalition calling on technology companies to institute and enforce service agreement prohibitions on hateful activities to protect public safety and respect diverse voices. The coalition includes more than 50 civil rights, human rights, technology policy and consumer protection organizations dedicated to encouraging internet companies, social media sites, payment processors and chat services to commit to fair, effective and transparent rules and practices for content moderation.

Change the Terms Coalition

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We believe that tech companies need to do more to combat hateful conduct on their platforms.