By Sarah E. Needleman and Jeff Horwitz
Civil-rights advocates are increasing pressure on Facebook Inc.
advertisers to halt spending on the company's platforms, saying it
has done too little to police hateful and other problematic
Groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP have
enlisted hundreds of companies in the boycott campaign, while
lawyers Facebook hired to audit its handling of civil-rights issues
issued a report this week saying the company made progress on
several fronts but has more work to do.
Facebook has acknowledged its shortcomings and pointed to new
policies, additional spending and other efforts aimed at trying to
Here is a look at what Facebook is doing -- and not doing -- in
What specific demands are civil-rights groups making of
Stop Hate for Profit, the name of the coalition behind the
boycott effort, has on its website 10 recommendations for Facebook,
ranging from the specific to the sweeping.
The group says Facebook should hire an executive with
civil-rights expertise for a post in its C-suite, refund
advertisers whose ads were shown next to content later removed for
violating Facebook's terms of service and submit to regular
independent audits of identity-based hate and misinformation on its
On Wednesday, Facebook said it plans to hire a vice president
for civil rights, a role that a spokeswoman described as "very
senior" and is intended to lead a team built out over time. She
also said the company issues refunds to advertisers in some
The boycott groups credit Facebook with some progress on those
points but say it is insufficient. The coalition wants Facebook to
adopt "common-sense changes" to its policies to reduce hate on the
platform and remove content that could inspire people to commit
violence; stop amplifying all groups associated with hate,
misinformation or conspiracies; and remove groups focused on "white
supremacy, militia, anti-Semitism, violent conspiracies, Holocaust
denialism, vaccine misinformation and climate denialism."
How does Facebook define hate speech?
Facebook's community standards define hate speech as attacks on
people based on about a dozen "protected characteristics" including
race, religious affiliation, national origin and gender identity.
Attacks include violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of
inferiority or calls for exclusion or segregation, it says.
Facebook has broadened its definition of hate speech and who is
protected over time. Last month, it said it would stop allowing ads
alleging that a particular race, religion or identity group posed a
threat to others. Such content is still allowed in unpaid
Civil-rights advocates say the rules remain too narrow, allowing
white supremacists to dodge crackdowns by avoiding certain keywords
that would surface in searches for hate speech. The Anti-Defamation
League last month listed several examples of hateful or extremist
posts on Facebook that still appear near major companies' ads on
One example is of an ad from home-sharing company Airbnb Inc.
that the League said appeared next to a post from an antigovernment
militia movement called the Three Percenters, about the recent
decision by PepsiCo Inc.'s Quaker Oats brand to retire its Aunt
Jemima branding. In another, the League said an ad from
human-resources company Randstad Holding NV appeared next to a
video from a large Facebook group called Q-Anon Patriots that
accused the media of promoting cannibalism by attempting to draw a
connection between a sculpture owned by former lobbyist Tony
Podesta and deceased serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer.
The Facebook spokeswoman said it takes aggressive action against
groups and people who promote hate. The company last month said it
banned hundreds of accounts deemed to have links to white
supremacist organizations or groups that promote violence.
How does Facebook handle speech by political figures compared
with everyday users?
Some of the biggest recent battles over content have involved
President Trump's social-media posts.
When he wrote "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" in
response to protests and unrest after the police killing of George
Floyd, Twitter Inc. labeled the post as violating its policies on
glorifying violence; Facebook left the same comments untouched.
Mr. Trump responded that he wasn't urging police to shoot
protesters, adding that "nobody should have any problem with this
other than the haters, and those looking to cause trouble on social
Facebook has said it doesn't fact-check political speech from
politicians because it doesn't believe private companies should be
arbiters of what is true and what isn't.
The boycott coalition says Facebook should eliminate its
exemption for politicians.
Last month CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook would start
labeling posts by any user that violate content rules but are
deemed newsworthy. For example, the company determined that posts
showing a 1972 war photo of a naked Vietnamese girl fleeing napalm
bombs was newsworthy and could remain on the platform, after
Facebook initially took down that content under restrictions on
Mr. Zuckerberg also said Facebook would add safeguards to
prevent content that promotes voter suppression and ads that depict
immigrants or asylum seekers as inferior. Facebook would have to
decide whether nonadvertising content that is reported as abusive
toward immigrants should be removed.
What tools does Facebook use to moderate content on its
Facebook says it has more than 35,000 people working on safety
and security, including more than 350 employees with expertise in
law enforcement, national security, counterterrorism intelligence
and academic studies in radicalization. Facebook also uses
artificial intelligence to detect prohibited content, and says it
removes most of that content before there is a user report. The
company says it blocks millions of fake accounts from being created
The amount of effort Facebook puts into detecting violations is
a point of contention. The civil-rights groups say the company has
enormous financial resources but still routinely fails to catch
toxic content posted within group pages and elsewhere. They say all
individuals facing severe hate and harassment should be able to
connect with a live Facebook employee.
The Facebook spokeswoman said users can moderate comments on
their posts, block other users and control their posts' visibility
by creating a restricted list. She also said the company made
changes allowing groups to be removed if an administrator
encourages or creates posts that violate platform rules.
To help address where lines should be drawn on hate speech,
Facebook has created an independent content governance board that
includes human-rights lawyers and free-speech advocates. The group
likely will be fully operational late this year.
What is Facebook's 'transparency' report?
The report created by Facebook shows how the company enforces
its community standards and content restrictions, responds to data
requests and protects intellectual property. The company's most
recent transparency report, released in May, says Facebook removed
9.6 million pieces of content with hate speech in the first
quarter, up from 5.7 million in the fourth quarter of 2019.
The civil-rights groups say they don't trust Facebook to check
its own work. They say its report doesn't address hate speech that
isn't reported or whether it dismisses concerns about content that
is reported as abusive but isn't removed.
"A 'transparency report' is only as good as its author is
independent," the Stop Hate for Profit website says.
The Facebook spokeswoman said the company has committed to
providing more insight into how it enforces its hate-speech
policies in the coming year.
Does Facebook remove whole groups from its platform?
Facebook has struggled to articulate exactly when a private
group becomes a threat to other users, but it is a sliding scale.
Groups that Facebook considers spreaders of misinformation or
vitriolic content can be removed from its algorithmic
recommendation systems. Permanent removal is a possibility for
entities deemed a threat to others, but Mr. Zuckerberg has voiced
reluctance to entirely prevent users from forming communities
around subjects they care about.
Facebook also removes groups and pages it identifies as part of
coordinated inauthentic behavior.
Who is ultimately in charge of what types of content are allowed
on the company's social-media platforms?
Mr. Zuckerberg has final say on content policy matters. The CEO
guided Facebook's handling of the president's social-media posts --
a focus of its dispute with civil-rights groups.
Mr. Zuckerberg has argued for free expression online, saying in
a speech at Georgetown University in October that Facebook
shouldn't be the ultimate arbiter of truth. "In a democracy, I
believe people should decide what is credible, not tech companies,"
he said. Mr. Zuckerberg also said creating rules that prohibit free
speech can have unintended consequences.
The Facebook spokeswoman said that the company makes tens of
thousands of decisions about content daily and that the process
depends on its roughly 15,000 content reviewers world-wide. In some
cases, content decisions are escalated to people on different
teams, and they are handled routinely by on-call content policy
specialists around the world, with senior leadership weighing in on
a small number of decisions, she said.
Write to Sarah E. Needleman at firstname.lastname@example.org and Jeff
Horwitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
July 09, 2020 14:34 ET (18:34 GMT)
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