Leadership Conferfence: Facebook Must Change Policies and Practices to Protect Civil and Human Rights

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vanita gupta
Vanita Gupta, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia

WASHINGTON – The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Color Of Change sent a letter to Facebook urging the company to “take immediate steps to build and restore public faith…in the aftermath of revelations detailing ways the company has undermined our democracy and civil society.”

While Facebook is currently conducting a much-needed civil rights audit, the company has for years refused to acknowledge, or chronically mismanaged, civil and human rights violations occurring on the platform.

The groups wrote in part, “the recent New York Times report tells of how you chose to work in the shadows (and with unscrupulous partners) to undermine your critics, foment anti-Semitism, validate right-wing conspiracy theories, and create false equivalencies that put deceptive, self-serving complaints from far right factions on equal footing with the fact-based inquiry of the civil and human rights community. Taken together, these actions can only lead us to believe that adverse forces and incentives within the company are undermining the civil rights audit process.”

A list of harms collected by a coalition of civil rights organizations include:

  • Persistent predatory and discriminatory advertising, particularly in the areas of housing, employment, finance, and marketing to children.
  • Insufficient protections and interventions for people of color and women being targeted, doxxed, and harassed by white supremacists and misogynists.
  • Opaque policies on the purposes for which information is given to law enforcement or sold to third-party data mining and brokerage companies.
  • Racially charged and targeted digital voter ads and posts intended to intimidate and suppress voter participation among communities of color and to foment racial hostility.
  • Rampant misinformation, often in the form of coordinated campaigns, used to undermine political and social advances made by marginalized groups.
  • Leaked censorship guidelines that name white men as a group protected from hate speech but not Black children.
  • An internal culture with a documented history of devaluing Black users and employees, and therefore unable to attract and retain Black and Latinx talent, particularly in senior executive positions, engineering and tech departments.
  • An absence of credible anti-bias training and civil rights education for staff
  • A failure to guarantee that your product teams are not building platform architecture that results in structural biases, and that they are taking all measures to assure that technologies such as artificial intelligence, algorithms, machine learning, and facial recognition are not perpetuating inequality, social stereotypes, and discrimination.
  • A failure to ensure that you are consulting with diverse institutions, individuals, and groups when engaged in data sharing.

The groups called for an update on the status of the audit, and a commitment to addressing the problems and implementing recommendations. Additionally, the groups recommend:

  • A C-Suite level Chief User Advocate charged with representing users’ needs who will work in close consultation with civil rights organizations;
  • A public review of practices and mechanisms put in place by Facebook to address civil rights violations and increase public transparency;
  • A public report with recommendations and a timeline for implementation shared upon conclusion of the review;
  • The creation of a public-facing board committee or task force that is provided with the resources and commitment by leadership at the highest levels necessary to ensure full implementation of the report’s recommendations.

The full letter can be found here.