Facebook has issued a second Progress Report on its ongoing “Civil Rights Audit.” The report has special reference to the 2020 election and, to put it mildly, it does not inspire confidence.
Facebook’s “civil rights” initiative is based on “interviews with over 90 civil rights organizations.” Throughout the current report, the “civil rights community” is referred to as though it were monolithic and authoritative. I am afraid there is a reason for this; i.e., the 90 organizations Facebook consulted were, indeed, monolithically on the left. I seriously doubt that civil rights organizations like the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education and the National Rifle Association were consulted. The lawyers who are advising Facebook are obviously on the left.
The new report talks about “hate speech,” as you would expect. It also announces a new “White Nationalism Policy.”
The Auditors believe that Facebook’s current white nationalism policy is too narrow because it prohibits only explicit praise, support, or representation of the terms “white nationalism” or “white separatism.” The narrow scope of the policy leaves up content that expressly espouses white nationalist ideology without using the term “white nationalist.” As a result, content that would cause the same harm is permitted to remain on the platform.
The Audit Team recommends that Facebook expand the white nationalism policy to prohibit content which expressly praises, supports, or represents white nationalist ideology even if it does not explicitly use the terms “white nationalism” or “white separatism.”
Since I have never met a white nationalist, I don’t know what “white nationalist ideology” includes. Whatever that might be, it is now banned from Facebook. It appears that other nationalist groups (e.g., Puerto Rican) and black separatist ideology are still permitted.
There is much more in the linked report, but I will add just two more points. First, “voter suppression” is a major focus of the civil rights audit. You might wonder how anyone could suppress someone else’s vote on Facebook. Here is the explanation:
Through the civil rights audit, Facebook strengthened its voter suppression policy in 2018, so that the policy now prohibits:
• Misrepresentations about how to vote (including statements that you can vote using an app);
• Misrepresentations about voting logistics, methods, or requirements;
• Misrepresentations about whether a vote will be counted; and
* Threats of violence relating to voting, voter registration, or the outcome of an election.
Facebook’s work in this area continues. The civil rights community has made clear to Facebook that the company needs to focus on voter suppression as a distinct civil rights challenge and recognize how certain communities are often disproportionately targeted and harmed by suppression campaigns. Facebook has committed to doing so and will continue to take steps to prepare for future elections and future attempts at suppression.
The upcoming census is wrapped into Facebook’s concerns about “suppression.”
Additionally, recognizing the importance of the 2020 Census, the company has made this a priority issue and is building out policies, operations, and preparations for the census. … Facebook is taking important steps to ensure that the census count mandated by the Constitution is not manipulated or interfered with through misrepresentation, misinformation, or suppressive tactics online.
Finally, Facebook announces a rather weird policy relating to racial appeals:
One tactic that has long been a concern of the civil and voting rights community is the use of racial appeals. Racial appeals are explicit or implicit efforts to appeal to one’s racial identity and/or use race to motivate someone to vote for or against a given candidate. While such appeals have historically been focused on race, they can also apply to religion, ethnicity, or other protected characteristics. Racial appeals can include explicit calls not to vote for a candidate because of the candidate’s race; warnings that a candidate is not “one of us;” threats that a racial, religious, or other protected group will “take over” if a certain candidate is elected; or more subtle messaging. These kinds of appeals sow division, advance stereotypes, and promote voter suppression and the disempowerment of minority communities.
Racial appeals have been a significant area of focus for the Audit Team.
Racial appeals are, sadly, common in our political life. Pretty much all the time, they take the form of telling blacks or Hispanics that, by virtue of their race or ethnic status, they should vote for Democrats. Are such racial appeals now to be banned on Facebook? That would be great, but somehow I don’t think that is what the company has in mind.
Facebook assures us that it is gearing up for the 2020 election:
Facebook has a full-time dedicated team focused exclusively on the U.S. 2020 elections, including product, engineering, threat intelligence, data science, policy, legal, operations, and other support. This team includes a dedicated U.S.-focused project manager, who is charged with leading the U.S. election work across the company and will ensure all these functions are integrated. Together this team will execute on Facebook’s work to prevent interference in the 2020 U.S. presidential election cycle.
I have a feeling that by “interference,” they mean interference with the Democratic presidential nominee’s march to victory.
Brent Bozell comments on the new Facebook Progress Report here.
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