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Civil Rights Groups Say Internal Facebook Audit Confirms Company Business Model 'Relies on Racism and Hate'

"There are real-life consequences when social media networks provide platforms for violent white supremacists, allowing them to incubate, organize, and recruit new followers to their hateful movements."

"Facebook's auditors faulted the social network for making policy decisions that undermine civil rights progress." (Photo: Getty Images)

A forthcoming internal audit on how Facebook's civil rights practices affect the platform's business model and treatment of users will reportedly describe how the social media giant uses concerns over free speech in ways that amplify and promote white nationalism and racist hate speech.

"Facebook has what I call an appeasement strategy: Tell us what we need to hear, and Facebook can keep doing whatever they like."
—Jessica González, Free Press

"Facebook's own audit shows what everyone already knew to be true, "their business model relies on racism and hate to increase traffic and targeted ad profits and the platform 'privileges' some voices over others, allowing the powerful to willfully break the rules," Freedom From Facebook & Google co-chairs David Segal and Sarah Miller said in a statement Wednesday.

The report, which was commissioned by Facebook, delved into the company's practices and policies with "extensive access" for the auditors, the Washington Post explained.

According to the Post's reporting Wednesday:

Facebook's auditors faulted the social network for making policy decisions that undermine civil rights progress. They said Facebook failed to improve the experience of people of color who use the platform and provides a forum for white supremacy and white nationalism. They also said the company had delayed acting on calls to hire experts in civil rights to senior leadership positions, noting recent decisions over hate speech were made by senior executives who lacked specific civil rights expertise and nuanced understandings of race—and that certain decisions were made against the objections of the auditors.

Media reform organization Free Press co-executive officer Jessica J. González told the New York Times Wednesday that Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg held a virtual meeting Tuesday with a number of activists and organizations to address their issues on the company's civil rights record but that the executives offered only "talk and no action."

"Facebook has what I call an appeasement strategy: Tell us what we need to hear, and Facebook can keep doing whatever they like," said González. "What they really need is a comprehensive sweep of the site of white supremacists, homophobes, anti-Semites, and other hateful groups."

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It's unclear which, if any, changes the platform intends to make to its business model in the wake of the audit's findings. 

In a statement reacting to the audit, Kristen Clarke, president and executive director of the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, said that Facebook's refusal to step in and handle the hate on the platform was among "the greatest threats to democracy" in the U.S. 

"Communities are still reeling from the rise in hate and racially motivated violence, and Facebook is not moving aggressively enough to ensure that hate is eliminated root and branch across the platform," said Clarke. "There are real-life consequences when social media networks provide platforms for violent white supremacists, allowing them to incubate, organize, and recruit new followers to their hateful movements."

A coalition of groups led by the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights issued a joint statement calling on the company to understand its role in the public discourse.

"Facebook has an enormous impact on our civil rights—by facilitating hate speech and violence, voter and census disinformation, and algorithmic bias, and by shortchanging diversity and inclusion," the groups said. "This audit has exposed Facebook's vulnerabilities and provides important recommendations that they must take up swiftly."

The groups added that while some progress has been made at the company due to the audit, as long as the problems remain, Facebook has work to do.

"The civil rights community remains united in our commitment to pressing Facebook to address outstanding problems and to do so urgently given what is at stake," said the groups. "As long as the platform is being weaponized to spread hate and violence, harm vulnerable communities, and undermine our democracy, we will continue to hold the platform accountable."

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