Reducing Hate on Facebook Takes Center Stage at Civil Rights Town Hall with COO Sheryl Sandberg
Change the Terms Coalition Convenes All Day Event to Discuss Steps Needed From Facebook’s Senior Leadership to Address Ongoing Harms to Users, Create a Culture Shift
Today, the Change the Terms Coalition (CTT) convened the Civil Rights x Tech Town Hall with Facebook that highlighted how free expression on the platform is often chilled amidst racist online threats; how hateful content and misinformation has undermined healthy conversations; and how more changes to Facebook’s terms and robust enforcement of them cannot come soon enough. The all-day event, led by CTT partner Color Of Change, included facilitated panels and one-on-one conversations for civil rights leaders to bring their lived experience with online hate, and expertise on how to most efficiently mitigate it, to Facebook’s leadership team, including Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg.
During the Civil Rights x Tech Town Hall, Change the Terms members demanded that Facebook adopt the coalition’s full policy recommendations, including public transparency regarding its content moderation decisions. Facebook Live broadcasted the murder of 51 Muslims in Christchurch all over the world and the coalition pressed company leadership to take swift action to ensure that it would no longer be a platform where hate can thrive. As part of this solution, CTT urged Facebook to combine the most advanced technology with diverse, well-supported, and highly-trained staff fluent in the culture, language and history of the regions where content is monitored. CTT also asked Facebook to create bold, structural change, starting with a board-level committee to assess efforts to curb hate on the platform.
“Only when tech leaders are taken out of their Silicon-Valley bubble to meet with people directly impacted by online hate, can platforms truly begin to understand the public safety crisis that their piecemeal approach to content moderation has on diverse communities,” said Jessica J. González, co-founder of Change the Terms and Vice President of Strategy at Free Press. “People in our communities are dying at the hands of white supremacy — the stakes are that high. Now that Facebook has heard some of our stories and calls for change, there can be no doubt about the path forward: We at Change the Terms urge them to adopt all of our policy recommendations. The safety of users must be a priority on the platform.”
“Facebook this week announced an exemption for elected officials who engage in hate speech so that speech will not be removed even though it violates Facebook’s policies. At this civil rights townhall we have heard repeatedly that this is a mistake that puts people of color and religious minorities in danger,” said Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and Change the Terms member. “Trump lies repeatedly on Facebook about Latino invaders who are killing Americans, the same language adopted by the mass killer at the Walmart in El Paso. Facebook should get rid of this embarrassing policy which allows millions of elected officials around the world to engage in the most vile of speech on Facebook’s platforms.”
“At a time of rising hate online, Facebook has repeatedly failed to protect already vulnerable users of color from further danger on its platforms,” said Steven Renderos, co-director at MediaJustice — a Change the Terms member. “Today, the company listened to accounts from our communities reiterating these experiences with harassment, hate speech, and other threats of violence. There are no excuses left for Facebook. If they are at all serious about the safety of people of color, the company must immediately adopt the Change the Terms policy recommendations and take significant steps towards real accountability.”
“Facebook has been home to some of the most hateful and violent online content — including the livestream of a murderous rampage at two mosques earlier this year,” said Madihha Ahussain, special counsel for anti-Muslim bigotry at Muslim Advocates — a Change the Terms member. “We hope that today’s important conversations were a reminder to Facebook and its leadership about the real and dangerous consequences of allowing this type of content on the platform. While our work together has resulted in some progress, Facebook must take meaningful steps to enact systemic, long-term change. Bigots and hate groups continue to threaten vulnerable communities like ours and we do not have time for half-measures.”
“When the world of Facebook is polluted with hate and violence, it puts the hopes, dreams, connections and even physical safety of Facebook users at risk,” said Cheryl A. Leanza, policy advisor to United Church of Christ Media Justice Ministry, OC Inc and Change the Terms member. “Without the face-to-face conversations we had today, it is all too easy to for Facebook’s leaders to dismiss the real dangers and harms all too rampant on the platform. We expect a renewed and stronger commitment from Facebook to make safety of all people online the paramount priority.”
“As we face accelerating and novel online threats to civil rights, voting rights, and privacy rights, Facebook needs to step up to be a leader and innovator on how to protect the safety of users and rebuild social norms it has frequently broken,” said David Brody, counsel and senior fellow for privacy & technology at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Change the Terms member. “Having some policies is not enough to restore trust. Facebook needs transparency, proper enforcement, and corporate accountability.”
“This year, the Latinx community has been targeted and murdered in mass violence events orchestrated and promoted by white supremacists on social media platforms like Facebook.” saidDaiquiri Ryan, policy counsel at the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Change the Terms member. “When hate infiltrates, invades, and spreads online, we lose yet another safe space for people of color to authentically tell their stories, participate in the digital economy, and engage in political discourse. NHMC urges Facebook to take on the unique obligation of safety and equity they owe to communities of color.”
“Facebook continues to serve as a powerful tool that is used by extremists to spread their hateful messages into the mainstream,” said Heidi Beirich, co-founder of the Change the Terms coalition and Intelligence Project Director for the Southern Poverty Law Center. “While it has taken steps to implement content moderation policies in an attempt to reduce the amount of toxic bigotry on its platform, it has mostly been lip service. Facebook’s efforts remain insufficient and without meaningful content moderation, we can only expect to see more young white men being indoctrinated into the world of far-right extremism from Facebook and other social media platforms.”
This event follows Facebook’s August 20 release of an interim report by former Republican Senator John Kyl, a man with a long history of anti-Muslim statements and actions — many of which would be grounds for removal from Facebook’s platform, alleging anti-conservative bias. That report was based on input solely from conservative leaders and groups without citing a single example or evidence. Facebook committed to a civil rights audit, released on June 30, 2019, at the urging of Color Of Change, Muslim Advocates, MediaJustice, and other Change the Terms members, after revelations that Facebook hired a conservative research agency that used anti-Semitic and anti-black smears to attempt to discredit Color Of Change during its multi-year effort to hold the tech giant accountable to its users.
Since the launch of the Change the Terms in October 2018, members of the coalition have been in consistent communication with social media platforms — including Facebook — about strengthening their policies and practices to curb hateful activity online. Facebook has undertaken the following changes: (1) prohibited content that explicitly praises white nationalism; (2) enforced its policies against dangerous individuals and organizations, resulting in the ban of several white supremacists; (3) implemented changes to its appeals process; and (4) worked to update the methods used by its content reviewers to analyze hateful content. Facebook is still far from adopting the full set of recommended corporate policies specifically in the areas of enforcement, transparency, evaluation and training.
A full analysis of Facebook’s steps to change their policies and practices to reduce hate, and where they fall short, can be found here https://bit.ly/2n46Ut9 and remarks as prepared for the event can be found here and here. The complete Change the Terms model policies can be found here: https://www.changetheterms.org/terms. Change the Terms does not support government-dictated content moderation.
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Change the Terms is a coalition calling on technology companies to institute and enforce service agreement prohibitions on hateful activities to protect public safety and respect diverse voices. The coalition includes more than 50 civil rights, human rights, technology policy and consumer protection organizations dedicated to encouraging internet companies, social media sites, payment processors and chat services to commit to fair, effective and transparent rules and practices for content moderation.