A broad coalition of high-profile civil-rights groups sent a letter to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on Monday, warning him to purge his platform of “pervasive bigotry” before next year’s election.
The group, which includes the Human Rights Campaign, Southern Poverty Law Center, the NAACP, the National LGBTQ Task Force, and Muslim Advocates, told Zuckerberg that the recent meetings they’ve had with other Facebook executives, like Sheryl Sandberg, were not enough. In their letter, they implored the tech giant to develop a concrete plan for the rise in hate groups due to the platform’s inability to sufficiently stop them.
“As a result of the pervasive presence and organizing by hate groups on your platform—some could not exist as national level entities without it—we have repeatedly requested that you convene a gathering with civil rights organizations to discuss appropriate and strategic responses,” the letter reads.
“While you were unable to sufficiently respond to the concerns raised above, Facebook participated in and organized events that stigmatized Muslims and other communities such as a recent convening called ‘Tech Against Terrorism.’”
This week, Facebook executives will go before Congress to talk about the role their platform played in distributing Russian propaganda and hate messages in last year’s election.
The coalition of civil-rights groups said they were “alarmed to see [Facebook’s] platform being abused to promote bigotry, and especially disappointed that it has taken media exposure and congressional oversight to give a degree of transparency into your practices.”
Muslim Advocates staff lawyer Madihha Ahussain told The Daily Beast that this would be a good opportunity for the company to take its role as an amplifier more seriously. Ahussain said the company has been consistently willing to listen to civil rights groups, but never appears to take any steps until it is under intense political pressure to do so. So, Ahussain added, “we thoughtfully put together a list of structural changes that could help."
The letter lists some changes that the signatories believe could dramatically stem the flow and impact of messages from racist hate groups and fake news operations online.
The recommended changes include using a more diverse staff to review content than the invisible collection of staff and algorithms that currently conduct content moderation. The groups also are pushing for a formal, third-party audit of civil-rights impact of Facebook’s policies and programs, which Ahussain said substantially helped AirBnB improve its own anti-discrimination practices in recent years.
The first order of business, the letter states, is for Facebook to fully release all ads Russian operatives pushed out targeting the African-American, LGBTQ, and Muslim communities in an attempt to stir up hate in the U.S.
During the course of last year's elections, Russian trolls impersonated black Americans, Muslims, and LGBTQ rights groups—sometimes creating real-life events—in order to further social and political discord in America.
Impersonation content was substantively different from the ads that Russian bots ran, Ahussain noted. “There’s been significant conversation about the ads purchased by the Russian trolls. Facebook tried to address that in recent announcements, but it’s not sufficient for what we’re talking about.”
Just days after the election last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said it was a “crazy idea” that fake news that often included racist and conspiracy swayed the election.
After a series of denials and underestimations of the impact of Russian propaganda and profit-motivated or ideologically-spun fake news over the past year, Facebook admitted on Monday the Russian propaganda from one St. Petersburg building alone reached over 126 million users.
The company has refused to speak on the record about the troll accounts, and had not independently released the troll accounts to the public. All troll accounts were independently discovered, without Facebook’s cooperation, by journalists in Russia and the U.S.