As ad boycott wages on, Facebook civil rights audit reveals a long road ahead
Facebook released the results of its two-year independent civil rights audit on Wednesday, which revealed the platform “has a long road ahead on its civil rights journey.”
The nearly 90-page audit, led by civil rights expert Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, a partner in the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, was released a day after Facebook executives met with organizers of an ongoing ad boycott.
The meeting did not seem to go well, and ad boycott organizers released a statement shortly after blasting Facebook for delivering “the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands.”
In the civil rights audit, Murphy wrote that COO Sheryl Sandberg pledged continued support and CEO Mark Zuckerberg said he will “continue to revisit its voter suppression policies, as well as its policies relating to calls for violence by state actors.”
“These policies have direct and consequential implications for the US presidential election in November 2020, and we will be watching closely,” Murphy wrote. “The responsibility for implementing strong equality, non-discrimination and inclusion practices rests squarely with the CEO and COO. They have to own it and make sure that managers throughout the company take responsibility for following through.”
Murphy noted that some of the company’s “painful decisions” over the last nine months have caused “real-world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights.”
The audit also said it is “it’s absolutely essential that the company do more to build out its internal civil rights infrastructure,” noting that “more expertise is needed in-house.”
It also implored the social media giant to “address the tension of civil rights and free speech head on,” stating that Zuckerberg’s past calls for free expression do not have to exclude the values of non-discrimination.
“For a 21st century American corporation, and for Facebook, a social media company that has so much influence over our daily lives, the lack of clarity about the relationship between those two values is devastating,” Murphy wrote. “It will require hard balancing, but that kind of balancing of rights and interests has been part of the American dialogue since its founding and there is no reason that Facebook cannot harmonize those values, if it really wants to do so.”
The results of the audit come as Facebook faces immense pressure from a growing ad boycott at the urging of civil rights leaders.
The call for a pause on Facebook ads began on June 17, when a coalition of advocacy groups led by the NAACP, Colors of Change and the Anti-Defamation League launched the #StopHateforProfit campaign, calling on corporations to pause advertising on Facebook during the month of July. Since then, organizers say nearly 1,000 companies have joined in the ad boycott — including multinational conglomerate Unilever, telecom giant Verizon, and even coffee chain Starbucks.
On Tuesday afternoon, organizers of the #StopHateForProfit campaign including NAACP CEO Derrick Johnson, Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson, Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt and Free Press Co-CEO Jessica J. Gonzalez met with Facebook executives including Zuckerberg and Sandberg.
Gonzalez issued a statement shortly after the meeting, saying she was “deeply disappointed that Facebook still refuses to hold itself accountable to its users, its advertisers and society at large.”
“I was hoping to see deep humility and reflection about the outsized role that Facebook plays in shaping beliefs, opinions and behavior, and the many harms it’s caused and facilitated in real life,” she added. “Instead we saw more dialogue and no action.”
Gonzalez added that the company’s leaders “delivered the same old talking points to try to placate us without meeting our demands.”
“This isn’t over. We will continue to expand the boycott until Facebook takes our demands seriously,” she said. “We won’t be distracted by Facebook’s spin today or any day. Mark, Sheryl and their colleagues have much work to do to make Facebook a better place for everyone, and they need to get it done now.”
A Facebook spokesperson told ABC News that the company and the organizers both want Facebook to be “free of hate speech.”
“This meeting was an opportunity for us to hear from the campaign organizers and reaffirm our commitment to combating hate on our platform,” a Facebook spokesperson told ABC News in a statement Tuesday. “They want Facebook to be free of hate speech and so do we. That’s why it’s so important that we work to get this right.”
The spokesperson added that Facebook has “invested billions in people and technology to keep hate off of our platform,” noting that the company has created new policies to prohibit voter and census interference and has banned more than 250 white supremacist organizations.
“We know we will be judged by our actions not by our words and are grateful to these groups and many others for their continued engagement,” the statement added.