Advocacy Organizations Are Cautiously Optimistic About Facebook’s Civil Rights Audit

By Sameer Rao May 03, 2018

Axios reported yesterday (May 2) that Facebook, plagued by the aftermath of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, will undergo an independent audit about its platform’s treatment of users from marginalized communities.

The report comes after numerous advocacy organizations publicly pressured the social media giant to review how its policies enable or perpetuate discriminatory treatment. Last October, 19 civil rights groups demanded the company take action against accounts (including many traced to Russia-based imposters) promoting racist and false narratives in an open letter. In addition, the National Fair Housing Alliance and other housing rights groups sued Facebook in March because its promotions platform allowed advertisers to exclude users by race

"The civil rights audit will be guided by Laura Murphy, a national civil liberties and civil rights leader," Axios reported. "Murphy will take feedback from civil rights groups, like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, and advise Facebook on the best path forward."

Axios added that Facebook will conduct this audit in tandem with a separate one to address accusations of bias against conservative users. Former U.S. Senator Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) and The Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank, will advise Facebook in that review.

Several anti-racist and community organizing groups praised the civil rights audit as a step forward, while promising to hold Facebook accountable to its promises. Here are three group leaders’ responses: 

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights CEO Vanita Gupta‘s statement:
rnt"We are encouraged by Facebook’s commitment to conduct a civil rights audit of the company and its products, and the team they have selected to do it. The Leadership Conference, along with other organizations, called for such a review. The process should be transparent and engage the civil rights community. We will remain vigilant until Facebook does everything in its power to reduce the civil rights harm its platform enables.”

Color of Change executive director Rashad Robinson‘s statement excerpt: 
rnt"However, this is just a first step. We are concerned that with their appointment of The Heritage Foundation to investigate issues of liberal bias, Facebook is playing into party politics and detracting from the real issue: ensuring that all people can feel safe online without the fear of being targeted by nefarious actors. By centering a conservative organization like The Heritage Foundation, which has a history of exploiting anti-Black narratives to create discriminatory policy and peddling Islamaphobia, Facebook is ignoring the voices of hundreds of social justice advocates who feel unsafe online. Without strong oversight, any results will have a negative impact on promoting safety for our communities.

Facebook must commit to working with civil rights and racial justice organizations to discuss solutions to the problems examined by the audit and to develop appropriate steps to ensure that Black voices aren’t censored or harassed on their platform. We look forward to continuing to work with them to that end, while still pushing for the public release of their findings coupled with real on-going solutions and actionable next steps.”

National Hispanic Media Coalition vice president Carmen Scurato’s statement:
rnt“NHMC has long been concerned about the negative impact Facebook has had on Latinos, to the extent the platform has been used to cement stereotypes of and incite hate towards the Latino community or shut out Latino voices. After many months of advocacy together with allied organizations, we are pleased Facebook has committed to conducting a civil rights audit. This is an encouraging first step. We are hopeful the audit will be thorough and comprehensively address the issues we have raised.”