Audit culminates six months of heightened commitment from Facebook to address harms on the platform
Advocacy group calls for long term structural and cultural commitment from Facebook in order to fight discrimination; calls on government regulators to intervene for industry-wide change
MENLO PARK — Color Of Change and partners today secured the public release of an updated civil rights audit from Facebook, which includes the creation of a civil rights accountability infrastructure headed by Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg. Facebook demonstrated a growing commitment to civil rights in the updated audit released today after years of successful advocacy led by Color Of Change–the nation’s largest online racial justice organization–but failed to establish protocols for evaluating the potential discriminatory impacts of new products, or outline the proactive enforcement process necessary to achieve a discrimination-free platform. The lack of structural changes reflected in the audit confirms that outside intervention from government regulators will be necessary to ensure civil rights become an operational priority at Facebook and across large technology platforms.
“This latest update to the civil rights audit reflects a meaningful reversal in Facebook leadership’s commitment to making the platform safe for all users, one which advances the standards for all technology companies grappling with issues of safety, harassment, and discrimination,” said Rashad Robinson, President of Color Of Change. “This victory is the result of a collaborative, long-term strategy to hold Facebook accountable to all of its users, including people of color, and a strong partnership with Laura Murphy and promising commitment from Sheryl Sandberg. The updated audit is an important step forward, but the broader impact for our 1.5 million members and all Black Facebook users will depend on the company’s commitment to enforcement and transparency of policies developed by this promised civil rights infrastructure to protect all Facebook users from harm.”
The civil rights audit is the result of four years of Color Of Change and coalition partners’ pressure on the platform to address concerns related to hate speech, ads discrimination, voter suppression and Facebook’s failure to protect the safety and security of Black users and users of colors. Prior to the New York Times’ reporting that revealed Facebook had hired Definers, a controversial PR firm, to conduct a smear campaign against Color Of Change, Facebook’s leadership had delayed meaningfully responding to and evaluating its practices around civil rights. In a meeting demanded by Color Of Change after the revelations broke last November, Sandberg agreed, for the first time, to publicly release the progress on the civil rights audit.
In May, ahead of Facebook’s annual shareholder meeting on May 30, Color Of Change–together with Majority Action– urged Facebook shareholders to withhold their support for the nomination of Mark Zuckerberg to the board of directors. In their filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission, the groups detailed Facebook’s insufficient response to cascading risks, including civil rights violations– making the case to check Zuckerberg’s sweeping control as both CEO and Chairman with 10-1 voting power. This year, Facebook’s board rejected all shareholder proposals for improved governance and reporting.
“In the last six months we’ve seen more effort from Facebook to address discrimination than in the entire prior history of the company, and it’s our expectation that this level of commitment continue so long as it is necessary,” said Color Of Change Senior Campaign Director Brandi Collins-Dexter. “Fully addressing discrimination at Facebook requires a cultural shift, starting at the top. The impact of policy decisions on Black users must be just as significant a consideration as the impact on potential revenue and market share – we at Color Of Change will not rest until that’s the case.”
Color Of Change is most encouraged by the following commitments from Facebook, outlined in the report:
- Content moderation: Facebook has finally acknowledged, after years of pressure, that context is important to moderating hate content, especially to avoid censoring Black activists as outlined in this USA Today story. Pilot programs testing specialization in content moderation are an important first step toward progress.
- Advertising targeting practices: The creation of a dedicated market for housing, credit and employment advertisements with restrictions on targeting is a positive development and credit to Color Of Change’s allies in the civil rights and fair housing legal community.
- Elections and 2020 census: Facebook expanding their elections work to include the 2020 Census is essential. Additionally, including “racial appeals” along with misinformation and interference is crucial to ensuring the platform is not a venue for hateful political tactics.
- Permanent civil rights infrastructure: The addition of a Civil Rights Task Force is an acknowledgement from Facebook that the work of ensuring civil rights on the platform cannot end after the third and final audit report, though it includes much needed improvements.
Color Of Change will push Facebook to prioritize the following areas for improvement in the final version of the audit report, expected at the end of this year:
- Content moderation and enforcement: In moving to specialization for content moderators, Facebook has admitted that to ensure the safety of its users, content moderators are an essential part of the operation. Since they are essential to the business of the platform, content moderators should be made full time Facebook employees with all the benefits, support, and perks that engineers, product managers and ad sales managers enjoy. Additionally, content moderators should be provided with ample mental health care and support given what we know about the psychological toll of their jobs.
- Advertising targeting practices: Facebook must address the bias in ad delivery outlined in this report in addition to creating an accessible ads library that can be used to analyze bias in ads. It is crucial that this library avoids the problems and pitfalls of the political ads API.
- Elections and 2020 census: Adding racial appeals is a positive step, but it remains unclear exactly how this will function and how the company will ensure it does not repeat its mistakes in blocking organizations from reaching Black voters. The selection of a consultant will be crucial to the next steps in elections and census work.
- Permanent Civil Rights Infrastructure: While the acknowledgement of an ongoing need is essential, the permanent structure of civil rights work is woefully under-addressed in this audit report. Color Of Change reiterates its call for a C-Suite level position charged solely with the work of protecting user rights, and encourages embedding the evaluation of possible discriminatory outcomes into every part of the process and every vertical of the company. Facebook must change its operations to no longer react to problems raised by users and advocates but rather consider discriminatory impacts before products are launched.
Color Of Change has been a leader in pushing civil rights policies at technology companies. The racial justice organization began pressuring Facebook about discrimination on the platform in 2015 and made its first demand for the civil audit in 2016. In October 2018, Color Of Change–together with the Center for American Progress, Free Press, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Southern Poverty Law Center–released recommended policies that technology corporations should adopt and implement to reduce hateful activities on their platforms.
About Color Of Change:
Color Of Change is the nation’s largest online racial justice organization. We help people respond effectively to injustice in the world around us. As a national online force driven by over 1.5 million members, we move decision-makers in corporations and government to create a more human and less hostile world for Black people in America. Visit www.colorofchange.org.
Backgrounder: A Timeline of Engagement Between Color Of Change and Facebook
2015 – Engagement over Doxxing
Color Of Change’s work with Facebook stretches back to 2015, when it successfully pushed the online platform to protect Black activists who were being doxxed by white supremacist and white nationalist groups. Color Of Change stepped in after Facebook had failed to act after repeated flags by activists and those personally affected.
2016 – Building Pressure on Facebook’s Surveillance of Black People
Color Of Change expanded their interactions with Facebook after they removed the account of Korryn Gaines, in the middle of a five-hour standoff that ended in the death of the 23-year-old by the Baltimore County police department. The company had granted an emergency request from the Baltimore County police department to take her social media accounts offline.
On August 22, 2016, Color Of Change sent a letter to Facebook in response to Gaines’ death, demanding they take accountability for enabling law enforcement’s violent relationship with communities of color. Color Of Change called on Facebook to clarify their position on collaborating with police and law enforcement to censor data and video and institute a policy that protects individual civil liberties and is transparent and accountable to the public.
Gaines’ example was not an outlier. Facebook – as Color Of Change reminded them in a letter cosigned with the American Civil Liberties Union and Center for Media Justice – consistently allowed law enforcement to use their products for surveillance, including the monitoring of information about the political, religious, social views, racial background, locations, associations or activities of any individual or group of individuals.
After ACLU research exposed how Facebook was allowing social media surveillance companies to exploit Facebook's data, Color Of Change—along with the ACLU and CMJ—pressured Facebook to crackdown on these companies. Facebook consulted with Color Of Change and partners, beginning in October 2016, on best practices for its pulling of API from social media surveillance companies, which was officially announced early 2017. This move demonstrated Color Of Change’s power to shape Facebook’s policies.
2017 – Dialogue and Meeting with Facebook On The Need For a Civil Rights Audit
Color Of Change continued pushing Facebook on their censorship of Korryn Gaines and Black users and building the drumbeat for a civil rights audit.
And in the wake of foreign electoral interference and discriminatory ads and hate on the platform, Color Of Change launched another campaign to publicly disclose the ads, accounts, and posts traced back to Russians targeting African American, LGBTQ, and Muslim communities.
Color Of Change also demanded that Facebook regularly convene a working group of a diverse group of civil rights organizations working to counter bigotry, and solicit input on policies and processes from this group. And, integrate addressing hate into Facebook’s corporate structure.
These conversations led to an in-person meeting on November 3, 2017 to specifically discuss the demands of Color Of Change and partners for Facebook to conduct a civil rights audit.
2018 – Color Of Change Wins Civil Rights Audit
Following strong questioning about discrimination on Facebook from Senator Cory Booker during an April 2018 joint hearing of the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees and growing grassroots advocacy on social media, Color Of Change and its partners successfully pushed Facebook to agree to a civil rights audit that would look at its impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color.
Run-up to Definers scandal
Color Of Change met with Facebook over ten times over the course of the year around the civil rights audit, in a good faith effort push Facebook to implement policies that would make it a better platform for Black users and other users from marginalized communities. Color Of Change also spoke to Facebook about the Change the Terms policy platform, which if implemented and enforced, would help to reduce the presence of hateful activities and online violence that manifest in physical violence.
At the same time, Facebook was moving to discredit the Color Of Change work as Facebook’s actions cast serious doubts on whether Black Americans and civil rights organizations can trust their promises.
November 19, 2018
President Rashad Robinson sends an open letter to Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg, outlining the harms caused by Facebook’s work with Definers. (LETTER)
November 28, 2018
Color Of Change sends a joint letter with Leadership Conference to Facebook outlining the steps necessary to firm up the civil rights audit.(LETTER)
November 29, 2018
Color Of Change meets with Sheryl Sandberg, and Facebook commits to a public release of the civil rights audit, for the first time ever. (STATEMENT)
December 18, 2018
Facebook releases its update on the civil rights audit. (STATEMENT)
2019 – Color Of Change Continues Pushing Facebook
Color Of Change continues to push Facebook, on its policy regarding white nationalism (STATEMENT), the next update of the civil rights audit, and a public forum with the company’s leadership.
On May 6, Color Of Change and Majority Action filed an exempt solicitation with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) outlining the case to shareholders to vote “no” on Mark Zuckerberg’s nomination as chairman of the board. The filing can be viewed here. (STATEMENT)