Critics: Facebook Needs Better Policing on Online Hate, Bias, and Disinformation

By Adriaan Brits Saturday, August 22, 2020

Facebook’s chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg are now in deep waters after civil rights leaders, advertisers, and even some of their own employees criticized how the social media network company failed to curtail and prevent the spread of misinformation and other unacceptable content.

A letter written on August 5 by 20 state attorney generals addressed to the CEO and COO, called out Facebook for its lack of action towards messages of hate, bias, and disinformation that has become rampant on the popular social media site. The officials who signed the letter represented states like New York, California, District of Columbia, and Illinois. 

According to these attorney generals, there encounters of people who experienced online harassment and other forms of hate were on the rise. Facebook was a common platform of such malicious acts.

State Attorney Generals: Facebook Is Not Doing Enough

Several social media companies and websites, aside from Facebook, already made changes to their system and rulings. One of them is Twitter, who announced that it would remove thousands of accounts associated with fringe conspiracy movement QAnon. The popular online video-sharing platform YouTube also made changes to its website and banned six channels that violated its policies. 

Although Facebook already made some changes to its policies, the authors of the said letter have commented about Facebook not doing enough to combat hateful messages and online propaganda. Facebook’s recent Civil Rights Audit was used to point out Facebook’s shortcomings, which showed how advertisers can still run ads that painted a religious group as a threat to the “American way of life.” 

Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal of New Jersey, who led the letter said in an interview, “Facebook has a hate speech, discrimination, disinformation problem. The way I view it, as an attorney general, is that it directly affects public safety in my state, that the groups that are allowed to find community online, on Facebook, allow hate to be normalized.”

Facebook has provided a platform for people to spread false information regarding the coming presidential election, Black Lives Matter protests, and recently the COVID-19 pandemic. The attorney generals commented that Zuckerberg’s response has been weak when people flagged harassment. A 2007 survey by Pew Research Center, over 40% of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment, and more than three-quarters of those harassment reports took place on Facebook.

A 7-Step Outline to Counter Online Harassment and Intimidation

To enhance Facebook’s response and actions towards the said issue, the attorney generals in their letter also outlined seven steps for the company to take. “We hope to work with you to ensure that fewer individuals suffer online harassment and discrimination and that it is quickly and effectively addressed when they do.” 

Of these seven steps, one of those mentioned includes the use of third-party audits of hate content and offering real-time assistance to users. In a statement released by Daniel Robert, Facebook spokesperson, “We share the Attorneys General’s goal of ensuring people feel safe on the internet and look forward to continuing our work with them.” He has shared that the company was investing billions of dollars to combat hate and misinformation.

The attorney’s generals also asked Facebook to further strengthen its existing policies regarding online hate, fake propaganda, and movements, and misleading ads, to “commit to an independent analysis of the social network’s content and algorithms; and expand policies limiting inflammatory ads that could vilify minority groups.” 

Their slow reaction towards a local page, Rise Up Ocean County, which posted anti-Semitic rhetoric, was also frowned upon. It took the company ten months to completely take it down only after a violent attack against Jews in New Jersey occurred in December.

With all the issues Facebook is facing right now, Mark Zuckerberg and his team are definitely feeling the pressure in addressing these concerns. The authors of the letter expect the social media giant to react much faster to the letter and that they won’t be stopped. Another delay in Facebook’s action will certainly lead to the authors using a variety of legal tools.

About the Author

Headshot for author Adriaan Brits
As an analyst of global affairs, Adriaan has an MSC from Oxford, with diverse interests in the digital economy, entertainment, and business. He is a specialist trainer in Advanced Analytics & Media.

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