According to an Independent Audit Report, Facebook’s Decisions on Free Speech Were Setbacks for Civil Rights

An independent audit report of Facebook’s practices and policies was published on Wednesday, which was led by civil rights experts Megan Cacace and Laura Murphy, and conducted with the cooperation of Facebook. According to the report, the platform has made heartbreaking decisions that were setbacks for civil rights. This report focuses on seven areas of the platform’s operations, such as Facebook’s civil rights accountability structure, issues about the election, and content moderation.

The 85+ pages report questions Facebook’s commitment to combating civil rights challenges, calling Facebook’s approach too piecemeal and reactive. The authors also wrote that the platform has made improvements, but the pace and scope of the company’s changes have failed to efficiently address various issues including hate speech, promoting inclusion, and discrimination.

The company’s decisions to put free speech ahead of other values reflects significant setbacks for civil rights, and according to Murphy, civil rights community have become frustrated and disheartened after years of engagement where they implored Facebook to make extra efforts to advance equality and combat discrimination, while also safeguarding free speech.

The final audit report is issued just after a day Facebook met with companies behind the Facebook ads boycott campaign. The meeting was disappointing for organizers of the boycott, and they said that Facebook is not making adequate efforts to tackle hate speech across its platform.

The Facebook ads boycott and the audit report will increase pressure on the social media platform. Back in the year 2017, hate speech on Facebook helped fuel the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The platform has also been used to spread misleading information and coronavirus conspiracy theories. Some of the misleading information even popped up in private Groups that are more challenging to moderate.

Sheryl Sandberg, COO Facebook, stated that the audit report marks only the beginning of Facebook’s efforts, not the end. He wrote in a press release that there are no quick fixes available to these issues, and we have a long way to go. Civil rights groups gave the company for undertaking the audit, however, stated that the findings were not surprising for them. A coalition of over 220 national organizations, the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights stated that the civil rights community will continue to hold Facebook accountable as long as it is weaponized to harm vulnerable communities, undermine democracy, and spread hate speech.

The report also raised concerns over Facebook’s policies of treating speech by political leaders as exempt from policies other users of the platform are required to follow. Authors of the report particularly cited the platform’s decision to allow Donald Trump’s posts to stand as causing quite alarming.

Read next: Facebook Yet Again Delays the Launch of Its Content Oversight Board Till Late Fall Of This Year
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