Pressure mounts on Facebook to rein in hate speech

Facebook came under renewed public scrutiny Wednesday with the release of an independent audit slamming the platform’s progress on civil rights issues, adding to internal and external pressure on the company to rein in hate speech and misinformation.

The audit was the third shoe to drop this month after a group of high-profile advertisers launched a boycott of the site and the release of a Democratic National Committee memo bashing the company just months before a crucial election.

The independent review of the company’s policies released Wednesday — the third in a set of three commissioned by the social media giant in 2018 — criticized Facebook for failing to develop a mechanism for protecting civil rights and for a hands-off approach when it comes to free speech, even in cases of violent posts.

Outside critics said the findings report shows the company needs to step up and make changes. If it doesn’t, they argued, government intervention would be warranted.

“If Facebook won’t create rules for the platform that protect free elections and public safety, then Congress must intervene to ensure civil rights are protected,” said Rashad Robinson, head of Color of Change. “Our work continues with or without Facebook’s collaboration; we won’t rest until the platform is a safe and just place for Black people.”

Auditors took particular issue with Facebook’s handling of posts from President Trump. One of the posts they highlighted was one from the president in response to protests in Minneapolis over the police killing of George Floyd in which Trump wrote “when the looting shoots, the shooting starts.”

The review said Facebook’s decision to leave such posts untouched has “real world consequences.”

The report acknowledged Facebook has made “some significant improvements in the platform,” but the overall audit was a scathing rebuke.

The report adds to growing pressure on Facebook to tighten its policies against hate speech and misinformation.