yesIssie LapowskyNone
×

Get access to Protocol

I’ve already subscribed

Will be used in accordance with our Privacy Policy

People

Facebook’s decision on Trump posts is a ‘devastating’ setback, says internal audit

Following a two-year audit, a new report finds Facebook's approach to civil rights to be "reactive and piecemeal."

Mark Zuckerberg standing in front of his own face on a screen

A new report argues that several recent posts in which President Trump shared misleading information about voting and called for shooting looters in Minnesota violate Facebook's own policies.

Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

In a newly released report commissioned by Facebook, a team of civil rights experts found that the company made a "devastating" error in failing to take action against several of President Trump's recent posts. The report, which is the culmination of a two-year civil rights audit at Facebook, echoes sentiments made by a growing coalition of advertisers, including giants like Verizon and Unilever, that have begun boycotting Facebook over its stance on hate speech and other forms of content.

The 100-page report examines a range of topics, from Facebook's hate speech policies and approach to hiring to its work on election interference. But the authors — Laura W. Murphy, former director of the ACLU's legislative office, and Megan Cacace, a partner in the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax — reserve special scrutiny for the company's treatment of the President's posts. They argue that several recent posts in which Trump shared misleading information about voting and called for shooting looters in Minnesota violate Facebook's own policies. In opting not to enforce those policies, Murphy and Cacace write, the company has not only set a dangerous precedent that other politicians could exploit, but it's also undermined its own professed commitment to civil rights.

"While these decisions were made ultimately at the highest level, we believe civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been," the report reads, "and the resulting decisions were devastating."

In May, Trump wrote on Facebook that Nevada and Michigan had sent mail-in and absentee ballots to voters "illegally" and that the governor of California sent ballots to "anyone living in the state, no matter who they are or how they got there." None of those statements is true, and therefore, the authors argue, they violate Facebook's policies against misrepresenting information about methods for voting and what materials are required to vote.

"If politicians are free to mislead people about official voting methods (by labeling ballots illegal or making other misleading statements that go unchecked, for example) and are allowed to use not-so-subtle dog whistles with impunity to incite violence against groups advocating for racial justice, this does not bode well for the hostile voting environment that can be facilitated by Facebook in the United States," the authors write.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, who heads the company's Civil Rights Task Force, published her own response to the report, touting Facebook as "the first social media company to undertake an audit of this kind." But Sandberg acknowledged that the company has "a long way to go."

"As hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company," she wrote. "We would urge companies in our industry and beyond to do the same."

Sandberg went on to acknowledge that "some of the starkest criticism" in the report had to do with Trump's posts. "In the auditors' view, the emphasis we've placed on free expression has not been adequately balanced by the critical value of nondiscrimination," Sandberg wrote. "The auditors also strongly disagree with our policy to not fact check politicians and believe that the end result means more voice for those in positions of power."

But Sandberg did not indicate whether Facebook would take the report's authors up on any of their recommendations, which were based on consultations with more than 100 civil rights groups and hundreds of advocates. Those recommendations include, among other things, broadening its definition of voter suppression and strengthening enforcement of that policy, as well as building out a team of civil rights experts to report to a new civil rights vice president that Facebook has said it plans to hire.

"A senior executive who had influence and a team of professionals to assure that policies and products are vetted for their civil rights implications before they are launched should have been onboarded much sooner," the authors wrote.

On Tuesday, Facebook's most senior executives, including Sandberg, CEO Mark Zuckerberg, and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox, met virtually with civil rights advocates who have been leading the advertiser boycotts through the creation of the #StopHateforProfit campaign. Those advocates came to the meeting with their own list of demands, many of which mirror the recommendations in the civil rights audit. But in a call with reporters following the meeting, the advocates said they were left disappointed.

"They showed up to the meeting expecting an A for attendance. Attending alone is not enough," said Rashad Robinson, president of the civil rights group Color of Change. "We were expecting some very clear answers to the recommendations we put on the table, and we did not get them."

The report's authors did give Facebook credit for some of the progress it's made on civil rights issues since the audit began in 2018. The company has, for instance, built stronger defenses against foreign interference in elections, developed a policy around protecting the U.S. Census, expanded its voter suppression policies, and built a team to study and defend against algorithmic bias.

But ultimately, Murphy and Cacace found that Facebook's approach to civil rights is "reactive and piecemeal," at best. Two years into their research, the authors write that they hoped Facebook would have come up with a comprehensive plan of action to address the concerns civil rights groups were backing in 2018. Instead, they write, "the frustration directed at Facebook from some quarters is at the highest level seen since the company was founded."

People

Beeper built the universal messaging app the world needed

It's an app for all your social apps. And part of an entirely new way to think about chat.

Beeper is an app for all your messaging apps, including the hard-to-access ones.

Image: Beeper

Eric Migicovsky likes to tinker. And the former CEO of Pebble — he's now a partner at Y Combinator — knows a thing or two about messaging. "You remember on the Pebble," he asked me, "how we had this microphone, and on Android you could reply to all kinds of messages?" Migicovsky liked that feature, and he especially liked that it didn't care which app you used. Android-using Pebble wearers could speak their replies to texts, Messenger chats, almost any notification that popped up.

That kind of universal, non-siloed approach to messaging appealed to Migicovsky, and it didn't really exist anywhere else. "Remember Trillian from back in the day?" he asked, somewhat wistfully. "Or Adium?" They were the gold-standard of universal messaging apps; users could log in to their AIM, MSN, GChat and Yahoo accounts, and chat with everyone in one place.

Keep Reading Show less
David Pierce

David Pierce ( @pierce) is Protocol's editor at large. Prior to joining Protocol, he was a columnist at The Wall Street Journal, a senior writer with Wired, and deputy editor at The Verge. He owns all the phones.

Politics

Facebook’s Oversight Board won’t save it from the Trump ban backlash

The Board's decision on whether to reinstate Trump could set a new precedent for Facebook. But does the average user care what the Board has to say?

A person holds a sign during a Free Speech Rally against tech companies, on Jan. 20 in California.

Photo: Valerie Macon/Getty Images

Two weeks after Facebook suspended former President Donald Trump's account indefinitely, Facebook answered a chorus of calls and referred the case to its newly created Oversight Board for review. Now, the board has 90 days to make a call as to whether Trump stays or goes permanently. The board's decision — and more specifically, how and why it arrives at that decision — could have consequences not only for other global leaders on Facebook, but for the future of the Board itself.

Facebook created its Oversight Board for such a time as this — a time when it would face a controversial content moderation decision and might need a gut check. Or a fall guy. There could be no decision more controversial than the one Facebook made on Jan. 7, when it decided to muzzle one of the most powerful people in the world with weeks remaining in his presidency. It stands to reason, then, that Facebook would tap in its newly anointed refs on the Oversight Board both to earnestly review the call and to put a little distance between Facebook and the decision.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Politics

This is the future of the FTC

President Joe Biden has named Becca Slaughter acting chair of the FTC. In conversation with Protocol, she laid out her priorities for the next four years.

FTC commissioner Becca Slaughter may be President Biden's pick for FTC chair.

Photo: David Becker/Getty Images

Becca Slaughter made a name for herself last year when, as a commissioner for the Federal Trade Commission, she breastfed her newborn baby during video testimony before the Senate, raising awareness about the plight of working parents during the pandemic.

But on Thursday, Slaughter's name began circulating for other reasons: She was just named as President Joe Biden's pick for acting chair of the FTC, an appointment that puts Slaughter at the head of antitrust investigations into tech giants, including Facebook.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Politics

The other reason Facebook silenced Trump? Republicans lost power.

Yes, the president's acts were unprecedented. But Facebook is also preparing for a new Washington, controlled by Democrats.

Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook's head of public policy Joel Kaplan have spent four years bending to conservatives' demands. Now, Facebook is bending in a new direction.

Photo: Samuel Corum/Getty Images

In his post announcing that President Trump would be blocked from posting on Facebook until at least Inauguration Day, Mark Zuckerberg wrote that the president's incitement of the violent mob that stormed the U.S. Capitol building Wednesday was "fundamentally different" than any of the offenses he's committed on Facebook before. "The risks of allowing the President to continue to use our service during this period are simply too great," he wrote on Thursday.

That may be true. But there's another reason why — after four years spent insisting that a tech company has no business shutting up the president of the United States, no matter how much he threatens to shoot protesters or engages in voter suppression — Zuckerberg finally had a change of heart: Republicans just lost power.

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Power

Pressure mounts on tech giants to ban Trump, as rioters storm Capitol

Facebook, Twitter and YouTube removed a video in which Trump expressed love for the rioters, but none of the companies have banned him outright — yet.

Twitter locked President Trump's account.

Image: Twitter

Twitter, Facebook and YouTube took action against several of President Trump's posts Wednesday, labeling the posts, limiting reshares and removing a video in which President Trump expressed his love for rioters who stormed the U.S. Capitol building, leading to the evacuation of the Senate, the deployment of the National Guard and to one person being shot and killed. Twitter locked President Trump's account, requiring him to remove three tweets and saying that his account would remain locked for 12 hours after those tweets were removed. Twitter also warned that any future violations would get him banned. Facebook also locked his account for 24 hours, citing "two policy violations." These actions followed a day of calls from tech investors, academics and others to kick Trump off of their platforms once and for all.

In an early tweet, University of Virginia law professor Danielle Citron implored Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to take action. "As someone who has served on your Trust and Safety Board since its inception and counseled you since 2009, time is now to suspend President Trump's account," Citron wrote. "He has deliberately incited violence, causing mayhem with his lies and threats."

Keep Reading Show less
Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Latest Stories