Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)

Facebook's Unchecked Power Endangers Civil Rights

If Mark Zuckerberg truly believes in giving everyone a voice, the company must integrate a power, race, and social analysis into its policies and their enforcement.

Gaurav LaroiaCarmen Scurato

Whether by accident or design, Facebook's massive scale and reach have made the online platform part of the world's social fabric. But behind its network of 2.6-billion regular users lurk algorithms specifically created to amplify divisive content and drive people apart. Add to that mix a lax enforcement of Facebook's own Community Standards and you have a toxic recipe for spreading hate speech, disinformation, and propaganda.

Facebook has allowed itself to become a tool for white supremacists and other hate groups to recruit others to join violent and hateful causes, bleeding odious and dangerous ideologies from the internet into the real world.

As the House Committee on the Judiciary prepares to grill the CEOs of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, and Facebook on antitrust issues today, members of Congress need to examine how Facebook's influence, reach, and power have undermined our democracy.

"By prioritizing profits and growth over every other social value, executives at Facebook have treated real-world harms and violence as nothing more than PR problems that must be managed."

By prioritizing profits and growth over every other social value, executives at Facebook have treated real-world harms and violence as nothing more than PR problems that must be managed.

A prime example is when the U.N. found that Facebook played a "determining role" in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The company's response? A blog post that promised to do a better job next time. In the words of Roger McNamee—a Facebook critic who was an early investor and adviser to the company—Facebook has repeatedly shown a "cultural indifference" to the consequences of its harms.

In that same vein, Facebook's civil-rights audit, completed earlier this month, noted how the company has repeatedly made "devastating errors" in its moderation and enforcement against hateful content. The report juxtaposes recommendations from civil-rights groups designed to protect marginalized communities with Facebook's decisions to undercut its own policies in favor of the interests of powerful politicians.

In response to these and other criticisms, Mark Zuckerberg has repeated a favorite mantra in defense of his narrow concept of free expression—as if repeating simplistic views about speech will erase the reality that marginalized communities have never fully experienced these freedoms. Allowing speech of the powerful to remain unchecked, in violation of Facebook's own terms of service, often chills the free speech of women, LGBTQIA+ people, and people of color who fear they will be harassed or violently targeted if they speak out.

If Zuckerberg truly believes in giving everyone a voice, the company must integrate a power, race, and social analysis into its policies and their enforcement. Without such an analysis, Facebook will continue to amplify the powerful and silence and sideline the powerless under the guise of protecting speech for all.

"Members of Congress must ensure that Zuckerberg answers for Facebook's failure to curb hate, a failure that's endangering the lives of millions of people."

The Stop Hate For Profit campaign has led to nearly 2,000 companies pausing advertising on Facebook and Instagram to try and force Zuckerberg to put words into action. Media Matters reports that nine additional companies—including Walmart, Facebook’s second-biggest advertiser in 2019—quietly paused advertising in July. Just these nine accounted for $335 million of Facebook's advertising revenue in 2019.

Zuckerberg told staff in early July that no new changes were coming as a result of the boycott and that he didn't want to be seen as capitulating to the demands of advertisers and racial-justice advocates. But a commitment to rid Facebook of the harms it's doing to our democracy and people across the world isn't capitulating. It's just the right thing to do.

Clear action steps to mitigate hate online have been available to Facebook for years. In 2018, a coalition of civil-rights and social-justice groups, including Free Press, crafted Change the Terms—a set of model corporate policies designed to curb hate on online platforms. Facebook has made incremental changes that seemingly align with the recommendations, but they're not nearly enough.

As we noted in our 2019 report, Facebook's "enforcement of its current policies remains lackluster, with the company making its decisions in an inconsistent and sporadic manner." This assessment is just as true today. Though its policies continue to evolve, the company still hasn't committed to equitably enforcing them.

Facebook insists that its new independent Oversight Board will be the answer to its content-moderation problem, yet news about the board's limited scope and power keep trickling out. The concept of an Oversight Board is meaningless if Facebook's internal procedures and policies are opaque and result in disparate impacts for marginalized communities across the globe. The board's silence on pressing issues like Trump's calls for police violence against racial-justice protesters shows how toothless this new entity is proving to be.

Members of Congress must ensure that Zuckerberg answers for Facebook's failure to curb hate, a failure that's endangering the lives of millions of people. The economic case against technology titans will be laid out next week. Congress must pursue the moral case against them too.


Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.
Gaurav Laroia

Gaurav Laroia

Gaurav Laroia is Senior Policy Counsel for Free Press

Carmen Scurato

Carmen Scurato

Carmen Scurato is Senior Policy Counsel at Free Press.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Dems Mark Anniversary of 13th Amendment With Calls to 'Close the Slavery Loophole'

"Prison labor is slave labor. Pass the #AbolitionAmendment."

Jessica Corbett ·


Urging Dems to 'Fight for Justice,' Progressives Launch 'Pass the PRO Act Holiday Tour'

"We've seen time and time again, when Democrats don't deliver quickly for their base and for labor, bad things happen, and you're approaching that precipice again."

Brett Wilkins ·


Dems Urge DOJ Antitrust Probe Into $43 Billion Discovery-WarnerMedia Merger

"Giant corporations must not be allowed to stomp out competition, put up barriers to enter the market, and continue to exclude Latinos from the media industry."

Jessica Corbett ·


DOJ Lawsuit Challenging Texas Gerrymandering Met With Applause, Calls for Action in Congress

"While we are grateful for the involvement of the federal government, what we need to stop the five-decade cycle of having to take legal action every 10 years is for Congress to pass the Freedom to Vote Act," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'Nobody Is Above the Law': Elizabeth Warren Applauds SEC Probe of Trump's Social Media Venture

"There may have been serious violations of securities laws during the proposed merger of Digital World Acquisition Corp. and Trump's media company," said the Massachusetts Democrat.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo