Civil Rights Groups Open Letter to Facebook on Kenosha: Strengthen and Enforce Hateful Activity Moderation to Prevent Further Loss of Life
“[Facebook must] build tools to systematically increase the proactive enforcement of your rules…and stop relying on the victims of hate speech and violent speech to flag violations.”
Nine days after two protestors were fatally shot in Kenosha, Wisconsin at a demonstration spurred by the police shooting of Jacob Blake, Facebook has not released a plan to remedy the repeated abuse of the platform — specifically the event pages tool — by white supremacists, hate groups, and militia groups to organize armed protests, rallies and demonstrations in the real world that incite violence and even death.
Change the Terms, the coalition of 60 civil rights and racial justice groups that has been urging Facebook to strengthen their response to hateful activity, today released an open letter to Facebook. In the letter, they demand that Facebook take specific actions to prevent the platform from being weaponized for lethal violence — including better monitoring, training, and enforcement by content moderators — and call on the company to do a full investigation into the enforcement failures that allowed an event page of a Kenosha militia group that called for people to bring weapons to remain up until after two lethal shootings took place, despite over 455 user flags about the page and the group that posted it.
The letter reads, in part: “Our organizations have repeatedly warned Facebook that white supremacists, conspiracy theorists and militia groups are using your events pages to organize armed protests and rallies that lead to real-world violence. We have seen this over and over again… [including] in Charlottesville, Virginia, where white supremacists used Facebook to organize the Unite the Right rally, which ended in Heather Heyer’s murder. What happened in Kenosha is no anomaly. It was foreseeable because it has happened before. You have consistently failed to act with the level of urgency consistent with these threats. That isn’t an operational mistake — that’s a design defect.”
The urgent actions that Change the Terms urges Facebook to take in the open letter are extensions of demands the civil and digital rights advocates in the coalition have been making for over two years with Facebook senior leadership, including CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg, as recently as July 7, 2020.
Read the full letter here: https://www.freepress.net/sites/default/files/2020-09/L-ChangeTheTerms-Zuckerberg-9-2-2020.pdf
Said Madihha Ahussain, Special Counsel for Anti-Muslim Bigotry at Muslim Advocates and member of Change the Terms:
“For more than five years, Muslim Advocates has warned top Facebook executives that white nationalists and militia groups were using their event pages to organize violence against Muslims and for more than five years, we have gotten only excuses and half-measures that fail to stop the problem. Now, after two lives were taken, we learn that the Kenosha militia’s event page advertising a literal call to arms was flagged to the company at least 455 times yet was allowed to remain up. Before any more lives are lost, Facebook must, finally, accept responsibility and take meaningful action to stop hate groups, white nationalists and militias from using their platforms to organize hate and violence.”
Said Rashad Robinson, Color Of Change President and member of Change the Terms:
“We are witnessing the violent and deadly consequences of Facebook’s years-long failure to root out the proliferation of right-wing extremism, hate groups, and incendiary content festering on its platform, yet Facebook continues to perpetuate a pattern of deflection and inaction on this urgent issue. Mark Zuckerberg — who has nearly complete control over the world’s largest social media platform — readily pushes the blame onto others, including contracted content moderators who aren’t full-time employees and don’t have adequate resources and guidance to do this critical work effectively. We see right through Facebook’s cheap shot excuses and demand the company immediately enact and enforce the systemic changes laid out by civil rights groups to halt the hate-fueled activity on its platform that has for too long imposed severe harm on Black people and other communities.”
Said Henry Fernandez, Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and member of Change the Terms:
“For years our coalition has warned that online hate has real world consequences that can be lethal, and that platforms like Facebook must overhaul their terms, moderation, and enforcement to prevent deaths. The revelations that Facebook, after receiving over 450 user flags, determined the overt incitements to violence on the Kenosha Guard’s ‘call to arms’ event page did not violate platform rules show how deeply rotten the company’s moderation and enforcement system is. Facebook cannot wait until lives are taken to act on dangerous, hateful, and violent content. To prevent more loss of life, Facebook must stop its reliance on victims’ reporting of hate, or even worse on people getting killed, and commit to proactive enforcement of its rules to catch and remove hate before it claims lives.”
Specific requests made by Change the Terms of Facebook in the open letter include:
● A full investigation into Facebook’s failure to enforce the “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations Policy” against calls to arms and how company product designs are used for violence by white supremacists, militias, and violent misogynist groups
● Public disclosure of whether the shooter received the event information by algorithm or other means on the platform
● Prioritization of proactive enforcement of platform rules, including rapid review of all event pages flagged for hateful activity, especially those belonging to white supremacist militia groups
● Adequate training for U.S. content moderators on identifying and understanding militia content and patterns, and a public description of moderator training materials
● Acknowledgement of company responsibility for design failures, instead of passing blame onto underpaid, undersupported moderation contractors
● Immediate investigations when spikes in user feedback reports signal risk of imminent harm
● Adopt Change the Terms model policies to ban hateful activities, enforce strong terms against hateful content, and hire a C-Suite level executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate company products and policies with regard to discrimination, bias and hate
● Unequivocal ban on all hate groups, white supremacist militia groups, violent misogynist groups, and event pages encouraging weapons at events
The Kenosha Guard Facebook page was reported 455 times to Facebook moderators, making up 66 percent of all events reported that day, with four manual reviews occurring in addition to the automated ones, only to be deemed in compliance with Facebook’s policies — a decision that Facebook later minimized as “an operational mistake.” By the time Facebook removed the Kenosha Guard Facebook page, it had grown to include 3,000 members.
The Change the Terms coalition has pushed major tech companies, including Facebook, to not only strengthen their rules against hateful content but to adopt specific corporate policies on transparency, enforcement and evaluation. Change the Terms’ model corporate policies, including specific provisions on defining hateful activity, monitoring and enforcing these terms, and can be found here: https://www.changetheterms.org/terms.
Change the Terms is a coalition calling on Big Tech to institute and enforce service agreement prohibitions on hateful activities to protect public safety and respect diverse voices. The coalition includes more than 60 civil rights, human rights, technology policy and consumer protection organizations dedicated to encouraging social media sites, payment processors and chat services to commit to fair, effective and transparent rules and practices for content moderation.