A collection of almost 80 civil rights groups are accusing Facebook of “racially biased censorship.” They are saying the company needs to be more transparent about its removal policies and cooperation with law enforcement. This adds to the criticism Facebook has been facing in recent months over the way it manages the content posted or shared by its 1.8 billion users.
The letter of criticism from the civil rights groups was in direct response to a letter from Facebook’s Senior Vice President Joel Kaplan. The letter reflected the groups’ increasing impatience with Facebook and the way they have inadequately addressed the groups’ concerns over biased censorship despite continued promises of action from senior executives.
The groups said Kaplan’s response “merely explains current, publicly available Facebook policies and fails to address the modest solutions to racially biased censorship we presented in earlier letters and meetings.” SumOfUs, Center for Media Justice, and the American Civil Liberties Union were some of the signers of the letter of complaint.
Kaplan acknowledged Facebook’s community operations team “sometimes get things wrong” but insisted his company is committed to rectifying mistakes and cooperating with outside partners.
Facebook has been constantly criticized over the past year for the way it enforces harassment, extremist propaganda, gun sales, news hoaxes, and etc. on its massive platform. The company has responded with tweaks to its existing terms of service and community standards. Most recently, Facebook has faced controversy over displays of violence during live video broadcast.
The company recently announced a new “Journalism Project,” which it hopes will improve and deepen its relationship with news organizations. It’s one in a series of moves the company intends to make in order to respond to criticism they didn’t do enough to combat the issue of fake news stories during the U.S. presidential campaign.
The civil rights groups stated their organizations experienced an “uneven application” of Facebook’s community standards, which relies on users to report abusive content. They said racial justice activists routinely had content that discusses racism or protests removed. All the while content with harassment and threats targeting users on the basis of race, religion, or sexual orientation were “thriving” on Facebook.
“This pattern of censorship represents a double standard, one that seems to be addressed only through direct activist intervention or significant media attention,” the groups wrote.
In order to handle a million or more content complaints per day, Facebook uses a multilayered system to handle complaints flagged by users. The complaints are then reviewed by low-level staffers and contractors who refer to a thick rule book to interpret and apply the company’s policies. This is compared to the relatively sparse community standards that users are asked to abide by.
Several recommendations were made to Facebook by the civil rights groups in its letter, including the ability for individual posts, profiles, or pages that are banned to appeal the removal. They recommended that Facebook give users a written justification when a post is removed. It was also suggested that a public report be generated which includes figures on content removals and the amount of takedown requests from law enforcement. The groups noted that Facebook should provide additional training on racial discrimination for content reviewers.