Facebook just received multiple blows to its already-beleaguered reputation. First, The New York Times reported on Monday (December 17) that the company failed to stop Russian trolls from targeting African-American users on both its platform and Instagram, which it owns, during the 2016 election cycle. The Times followed up yesterday (December 18) by disclosing that Facebook also gave other tech giants like Yahoo!, Apple and Amazon access to private messages and other personal information. The NAACP launched #LogOutFacebook, a boycott "in response to the tech company’s history of data hacks which unfairly target its users of color," earlier that day.
The NAACP also signed an open letter to Facebook leader Mark Zuckerberg alongside Muslim Advocates, the Center for Media Justice and nearly 30 other racial and social justice groups yesterday (December 18). The letter demands the following remedies:
- Reorganize and diversify the board of directors to better "reflect the diversity of your global community of users" and promote accountability, including having Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg relinquish their board seats
- Apologize to and release all information on organizations that the company’s contracted media firm, Definers Public Affairs, targeted for criticizing monitoring practices
- Fire Vice President of Global Public Policy Joel Kaplan, who was implicated in the attack campaign
- Publicly release all findings from the company’s internal civil rights audit, with no changes or redactions, by the end of next month
Facebook partially addressed some of these concerns by releasing an update on the audit yesterday. The update included information about Facebook’s consultation with civil rights groups, who identified voter suppression, hate content enforcement, lack of diverse hiring and algorithmic bias as chief concerns. It also said that the company "removed thousands of ad targeting options for ads related to housing, employment, credit, insurance and public accommodations if the targeting options could be misunderstood as describing groups on the basis of race, creed, color, national origin, veteran or military status, sexual orientation and disability status."
Statements from several of the open letter signatories make it clear that the update did change their stance.
"Yesterday’s update from Facebook on the civil rights audit doesn’t lessen any of our concerns around hate speech, and we believe even greater action is warranted in the wake of recent news," Erin Shields, the Center for Media Justice’s national field organizer for internet rights, said in an emailed statement.
“It’s interesting that Facebook released this civil rights audit on the same day that the NAACP launched #LogOutFacebook," NAACP president Derrick Johnson’s statement reads. "It’s also curious that just weeks ago, it was reported that Facebook hired deeply partisan strategy firms to conduct ‘opposition research’ calling into question the notion that this company operates with a nonpartisan view.”