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Facebook has released a long-awaited civil rights audit that’s bound to ramp up pressure to change policies that allow hate speech and other troubling content to flourish. It revealed that executive decisions by the company caused “significant setbacks for civil rights” and that the site could become an “echo chamber” of extremism if it doesn’t take stronger measures. “The company must recognize that failure to do so can have dangerous (and life-threatening) real-world consequences,” the report states.

Throughout the document, Facebook was faulted for placing free expression above hate speech. It singled out misinformation by Donald Trump around mail-in votes in Nevada and Michigan that could potentially affect the upcoming US elections in November 2020. Despite the false statements, Mark Zuckerberg left the posts as they were.

“Allowing the Trump posts to remain establishes a terrible precedent that may lead other politicians and non-politicians to spread false information about legal voting methods, which would effectively allow the platform to be weaponized to suppress voting,” according to the report. It also found “troubling” Facebook’s decision to allow Trump’s comment “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” to stay up without any content warning, when other platforms like Twitter flagged it.

The report noted that the site doesn’t enable free speech the way Zuckerberg has repeatedly preached that it does. “When it means that powerful politicians do not have to abide by the same rules that everyone else does, a hierarchy of speech is created that privileges certain voices over less powerful voices,” it found.

The Auditors believe that Facebook should do everything in its power to prevent its tools and algorithms from driving people toward self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism, and that the company must recognize that failure to do so can have dangerous (and lifethreatening) real-world consequences.

The report, led by civil rights leader Laura W. Murphy and the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, had a number of recommendations. To start with, Facebook needs to apply its rules more consistently and “take steps to address concerns about algorithmic bias or discrimination.” The report also suggested that the site engage more with civil rights leaders, much as ad boycott organizers suggested at recent meetings. Finally, it said Facebook should invest resources to “study and address organized hate,” and prohibit “praise, support and representation of… white nationalism.”

In response to the report, COO Sheryl Sandberg said that Facebook has made some progress, having committed to hiring a civil rights leader to bring “much-needed civil rights expertise in-house.” It also expanded voter suppression policies, announced that it will include a link directing people to a voting information hub and committed to building a more diverse workforce.

However, the company also repeated talking points it has used before. “Facebook stands firmly against hate,” it’s “making progress… but still a long way to go,” and “it is the beginning of the journey, not the end,” Sandberg wrote. The company committed to making some, but not all the changes suggested in the report. Facebook said earlier that it will not “make policy changes tied to revenue pressure.”

Given the tide of advertisers, civil rights leaders, users and now its own audit turning against it, that might not fly anymore, however. “Facebook has what I call an appeasement strategy: Tell us what we need to hear, and Facebook can keep doing whatever they like,” said Free Press co-executive officer Jessica J. Gonzales, who participated in a call with Zuckerberg and Sandberg yesterday. “What they really need is a comprehensive sweep of the site of white supremacists, homophobes, anti-Semites and other hateful groups.”

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Supreme Court watchers were left scratching their heads when they learned Justice Neil Gorsuch was the author of Monday’s landmark LGBT rights ruling, but not because the appointee of President Donald Trump might have been expected to side with his conservative colleagues in dissent.

Rather, it was a matter of math.

Each of the nine Supreme Court justices usually writes at least one opinion for each month the court hears arguments. Gorsuch’s opinion was his second for October while three of his colleagues wrote nothing. That highly unusual lineup suggests something going on behind the scenes.

Gorsuch became the only justice other than retired Justice Anthony Kennedy to author a major high court ruling in favor of LGBT rights when he wrote the decision declaring workplace discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity illegal under federal civil rights law. The 52-year-old justice earlier wrote the ruling requiring unanimous jury verdicts in state criminal cases.

The answer is obvious in one sense. He wrote opinions in both cases that attracted a majority of the court. But how he came to write them is a mystery.

After each month of arguments, which the court calls a sitting, Chief Justice John Roberts assigns the opinions for cases in which he is in the majority. Otherwise, the senior justice in the majority — usually either Clarence Thomas or Ruth Bader Ginsburg — decides who gets to write for the court. The justices work together to ensure there is a relatively even distribution of labor.

It seems unlikely, based on the usual practice, that Gorsuch would have been assigned both majority opinions in October, especially since Roberts and Ginsburg were two justices who didn’t write at all from that month. Justice Brett Kavanaugh was the third.

One of those three justices certainly was working on an opinion in a case that settled before the court could issue a decision. But that still leaves two justices with nothing.

Occasionally, positions shift after the initial tally taken just after the arguments, either because a draft majority opinion is unpersuasive to a justice, or a dissent is compelling enough to draw another vote. In rare instances, an opinion originally circulated as a dissent becomes the majority.

Such a shift might have happened here or in the case about unanimous juries, although there is not much evidence to suggest it with either one.

Georgetown University law professor Martin Lederman acknowledged on Twitter that he was speculating when he wrote that Gorsuch may have been undecided at first and that Roberts drafted an opinion siding with the employers. “Gorsuch didn’t buy it; drafted this instead, and the Chief came over to it,” Lederman wrote.

Or, he added, maybe the change happened in the juries case.

Majority opinions often have fairly lengthy recitations of the facts of the case. Gorsuch’s opinion basically devoted one paragraph each to the three fired employees whose cases the court decided Monday.

But the justice offered an explanation for the brevity. “Few facts are needed to appreciate the legal question we face. Each of the three cases before us started the same way: An employer fired a long-time employee shortly after the employee revealed that he or she is homosexual or transgender — and allegedly for no reason other than the employee’s homosexuality or transgender status,” he wrote.

Among other related questions is, what took so long? More than eight months elapsed between the arguments and Monday’s decision. That can happen at the court, but there often is a story behind the delay.

A highly anticipated case on affirmative action involving the University of Texas was argued in October 2011 and not decided until late the following June. The 7-1 outcome, in the end, decided very little.

Several years later, author Joan Biskupic wrote in “Breaking In,” her biography of Justice Sonia Sotomayor, that Sotomayor had drafted a biting dissenting opinion that appeared to have changed some conservative justices’ votes and ended up allowing the university to preserve its admissions policy.

The draft opinion eventually saw the light of day two years later, when the court upheld a constitutional amendment in Michigan that banned the consideration of race in public college admissions.

When Justice Harry Blackmun’s papers became public in 2004, they revealed that Kennedy had switched his vote — and the outcome — twice in 1992, in an abortion case that reaffirmed the 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and in a separate case banning clergy-led prayers at public school graduations.

Though he started out on the other side, Kennedy wound up writing or co-writing the majority opinion in both cases.

More politics coverage from Fortune:

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  • This is what people mean when they say they want to defund the police
  • Photos: In city squares and parks outside U.S. embassy buildings, Black Lives Matter protests go global
  • WATCH: Protests for George Floyd from around the U.S.

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The civil rights movement in the United States happened in much the same way a character in the Ernest Hemingway novel The Sun Also Rises went bankrupt: gradually then suddenly.

Seminal moments in the struggle of black Americans like the Brown v. Board of Education decision, the lynching of Emmett Till, and the Montgomery Bus Boycott occurred within a span of just 19 months in the mid-1950s.

1955 Emmett Till protest
Members of the black community gather to protest the murder of Emmett Till at Sharp Street Methodist Church in Baltimore, Sept. 28, 1955.
Afro American Newspapers/Gado/Getty Images

In the same way videos of the killings of Ahmaud Arbery and George Floyd have ignited a wave of unrest and protest in 2020, images of the mutilated corpse of 14-year-old Emmett Till had a similar effect in the fall of 1955. Till was abducted and lynched by two men in Mississippi after the white proprietor of a grocery store alleged he whistled at her and uttered obscenities. At his funeral in his hometown of Chicago, Till’s mother insisted on an open casket to show the world what the two men had done. The images were printed in African-American publications the Chicago Defender and Jet, and were soon picked up by the wider mass media. Till’s killers were acquitted by an all-white jury but later admitted to killing him under the protection of double jeopardy. His accuser admitted to fabricating parts of her story. 

Rosa Parks 1956 gets fingerprinted
Rosa Parks being fingerprinted in Montgomery, in 1956.
Underwood Archives/Getty Images

On Dec. 1, 1955, Rosa Parks, a seamstress in the segregated city of Montgomery, was riding a public bus and sitting in the front row of the “colored” section at the back of the bus. When the white section filled up, the bus driver ordered Parks and other black passengers to vacate their seats for white passengers. Parks refused and was arrested and fined $10. In response, a boycott of Montgomery’s buses—whose ridership was 75% black—was organized by the NAACP, black church leaders, and other black community groups. A legal challenge to the segregation of buses was mounted, and a federal court ruled the bus segregation unconstitutional under the equal rights clause of the 14th Amendment, a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in December 1956. A day after the decision, on Dec. 21, black residents ended the bus boycott after 381 days.

1957 Martin Luther King, Jr. Prayer Pilgrimage of Freedom
The Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the crowd at the Lincoln Memorial during the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom in Washington, D.C., in 1957.
Paul Schutzer—Time Life Pictures/Getty Images

Emerging as a leader in the Montgomery Bus Boycott was 26-year-old pastor Martin Luther King Jr., who was elected president of the Montgomery Improvement Association and soon after formed the Southern Christian Leadership Conference (SCLC) to unify other black churches to end segregation across the South. On May 17, 1957, King’s status as a leader of the civil rights movement was cemented with his “Give Us the Ballot” speech at the Prayer Pilgrimage for Freedom—a demonstration held to urge the U.S. government to enforce the Brown v. Board of Education ruling across the country, on the third anniversary of the decision. 

“Give us the ballot and we will no longer have to worry the federal government about our basic rights…Give us the ballot and we will no longer plead to the federal government for passage of an anti-lynching law…Give us the ballot and we will fill our legislative halls with men of goodwill…Give us the ballot and we will place judges on the benches of the South who will do justly and love mercy…Give us the ballot and we will quietly and nonviolently, without rancor or bitterness, implement the Supreme Court’s decision of May 17, 1954.” —Martin Luther King Jr.

1963 MLK March on Washington, DC
Martin Luther King Jr. addresses the crowd on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial during the historic March on Washington, 1963.
PhotoQuest/Getty Images

Six years later, at the March on Washington, King would deliver his most famous speech, “I Have a Dream,” before a crowd of 250,000, which included an estimated 60,000 white allies to the cause of black Americans. King’s speech, which invoked the words of the founding fathers, Lincoln, and the U.S. Constitution, was broadcast live on television and radio. Afterward, King and other march leaders met with President John F. Kennedy to discuss civil rights legislation. Kennedy would be assassinated before the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed.

1965 Selma, Alabama march Martin Luther King, Jr.
Martin Luther King Jr. leads a march for voting rights from Selma, Ala., in March 1965.
William Lovelace—Express/Getty Images

Freedoms won under the the act included the end of segregation in public places, and the outlawing of employment discrimination based on sex, race, religion, or national origin. But many Southern states still obstructed black people from voting. In February 1965, while peacefully protesting black disenfranchisement in Selma, Ala., a young Baptist deacon named Jimmie Lee Jackson was beaten by state troopers and shot dead by state trooper James Bonard Fowler. In response, three marches were held in March 1965 along the 54-mile highway from Selma to the state capital of Montgomery. The first march, organized by the SCLC’s James Bevel and Amelia Boynton Robinson, would come to be known as Bloody Sunday as the protesters who crossed Selma’s Edmund Pettus Bridge were met by state troopers and possemen on the other side who beat them with billy clubs and used tear gas. The Selma to Montgomery marches were considered instrumental to the passage of the 1965 Voting Rights Act, which prevented states from restricting access to the ballot box. 

1968 Olympic Games Black Power salute Smith and Carols
Tommie Smith and John Carlos raise their fists and give the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympic Games in Mexico City.
Bettmann/Getty Images

From Jesse Owens embarrassing the Nazis, to Jackie Robinson breaking Major League Baseball’s color barrier, to Muhammad Ali refusing the Vietnam draft, sports have always been political. Nowhere was that more visible than at the 1968 Olympic Games held in Mexico City where American sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos protested racial injustice back home. During the medal ceremony for the 200-meter race, Smith—who set a world record and won gold—and Carlos, who took bronze, donned black gloves, bowed their heads, and raised their fists during the national anthem. The pair left the podium to boos and were expelled from the Games. Facing a hostile reception back home, the men have been honored in the decades since and set a template for athletes peacefully protesting at major events.

1978 Marlon Brando The Longest Walk
Actor Marlon Brando addresses a rally of marchers at the completion of the Longest Walk, in Washington D.C., 1978.
Bettmann/Getty Images

For five months in 1978, hundreds of Native American activists and their supporters walked from San Francisco to Washington, D.C., to take a stand against the backlash to American Indians gaining rights to tribal lands and levels of self-governance. Speaking at a rally in Washington, D.C., at the end of the walk was actor Marlon Brando, who five years earlier rejected the Best Actor Oscar in protest of the depiction of Native Americans in Hollywood.

1988 Act-Up FDA protest
Members of ACT UP in protest at the headquarters of the FDA on Oct. 11, 1988, in Rockville, Md. The action, called Seize Control of the FDA, shut the agency down for the day.
Catherine McGann—Getty Images

The HIV/AIDS epidemic, which began in the early 1980s, was largely ignored by the American government for most of the decade, with members of the Reagan administration dismissing it as “the gay plague.” It wasn’t until 1985 that Reagan would publicly mention the disease, by which point 24,000 Americans—mostly gay and/or from communities of color—had died from it. ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) was formed in New York City in 1987 to fight for funding research and access to experimental treatments and to fight discrimination against people with HIV.

1992 Rodney King trial protests
Protesters gather outside the East County Courthouse, May 5, 1992, in Simi Valley, to condemn the acquittal of four police officers in the Rodney King case.
Hal Garb—AFP/Getty Images

In March 1991 construction worker Rodney King was severely beaten at the hands of 14 Los Angeles Police Department officers following a high-speed chase on suspicion of drunk driving. King would have been just another black victim of police brutality were it not for a nearby witness videotaping the assault and sending it to a local news station. The videotape caused a furor and pushed Los Angeles prosecutors to try four of the officers involved. But in April 1992, three of the four officers were acquitted, and the jury could not agree on one charge for the fourth. This lit the fuse for black communities in Los Angeles who saw it as another sign that the justice system would not protect them, even when a police assault was captured on video. Six days of rioting saw 63 people killed, more than 2,000 injured, and more than $1 billion in damage to property.

1995 Million Man March Washington DC
The Rev. Jesse Jackson addresses the crowd at the Million Man March, Oct. 16, 1995, in Washington, D.C.
Porter Gifford—Liaison/Getty Images

The Million Man March was a gathering of black men held on Oct. 16, 1995. Organized by Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan, who was joined by Christian and secular black civil rights leaders, the march aimed to “convey to the world a vastly different picture of the black male.” Speakers included the Rev. Jesse Jackson, Martin Luther King III, Rosa Parks, Maya Angelou, as well as Farrakhan himself. Two years later, a Million Woman March was held in response to criticism that the original march excluded black women.

1012 Trayvon Martin Seminole County protest
A rally in support of justice for Trayvon Martin on March 19, 2012, at the Seminole County Courthouse in Sanford, Fla., to demand the arrest of George Zimmerman.
Red Huber—Orlando Sentinel/MCT/Getty Images
2013 Trayvon Martin BLM protests
July 2013, demonstrators in Los Angeles during one of four days of protesting the acquittal of George Zimmerman who shot dead Trayvon Martin in Florida in 2012.
Robyn Beck—AFP/Getty Images

Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old black high school student, was walking through a gated community in Sanford, Florida when he got into an altercation with armed neighborhood watch coordinator George Zimmerman who shot him dead. Claiming self-defense, Zimmerman was initially not charged sparking widespread protests across the country, and prompting President Barack Obama to call for a full investigation into the shooting. Zimmerman was eventually charged but was acquitted at trial, with the jury accepting he acted in self-defense. In response to the acquittal, community activist Alicia Garza posted on Facebook: “I continue to be surprised at how little Black lives matter… Our lives matter.”, coining the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter.

2016 Kaepernick and Reid kneeling at Levis Stadium
On September 12, 2016 Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid kneel in protest during the national anthem in Santa Clara, CA.
Thearon W. Henderson—Getty Images

In 2016, following the highly public deaths of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, John Crawford III, Eric Garner, Philando Castile, and too many more to name, San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick began to protest the U.S. national anthem as it was played before preseason NFL games. Initially Kaepernick sat on the bench during the anthem, but after a conversation with a former Green Beret, he chose to kneel as a sign of respect for the military while also protesting injustice in the country. He was joined by teammate Eric Reid, and soon hundreds more across the league would follow suit and kneel throughout the season. Kaepernick’s protest would contribute to the end of his NFL career with no team picking him up after he opted out of his contract with the 49ers in 2017.

2020 George Floyd death_BLM protest NYC
Protesters gather at Foley Square to protest the recent killing of George Floyd on May 29, 2020 in New York City.
Liao Pan—China News Service/Getty Images

Which brings us to the moment we’re in now. In the crucible of quarantine, brewing unrest over the killing of Ahmaud Arbery in Georgia, Breona Taylor in Louisville, was ignited by the video of George Floyd being killed by police in Minneapolis. People have taken to the streets under the banner Black Lives Matter with demands that include police resources being redirected, and that qualified immunity for police officers be ended.

2020 Black Trans Lives Matter Chicago
Crowds wave rainbow signs in support of Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives on June 14, 2020, in Chicago. Protests erupted across the nation after George Floyd died in police custody in Minneapolis, on May 25th.
Natasha Moustache—Getty Images

As part of ongoing rallies in support of Black Lives Matter, protesters gather outside Brooklyn Museum in New York City to proclaim that Black Trans Lives Matter. Trans people, especially black trans women are disproportionately murdered in the United States.

More coverage on the intersection of race and business from Fortune:

  • Working While Black: Stories from black corporate America
  • Why making Juneteenth a company holiday is a powerful statement
  • Stacey Abrams: Safeguarding voting rights fights the “virus” of systemic racism
  • Fortune survey: 62% of CEOs plan policy changes in response to current calls for racial justice
  • How Sean “Diddy” Combs is helping black-owned businesses survive the coronavirus pandemic

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A group of civil rights organizations blasted Facebook on Wednesday, calling out the platform’s role in allowing hate and bigotry to fester and urging an advertiser boycott.

The groups, including the NAACP, Color of Change and the Anti-Defamation League, are asking what the social network could do with the $70 billion in annual revenue that it makes from advertising — claiming that Facebook’s tolerance of hate allowed white supremacy and racism to flourish.

“Today, we are asking all businesses to stand in solidarity with our most deeply held American values of freedom, equality and justice and not advertise on Facebook’s services in July,” a full page ad in The Los Angeles Times says. “Let’s send Facebook a powerful message: Your profits will never be worth promoting hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism and violence.”


Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen above.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is seen above.
(Getty Images)


Although many of these groups have been in conversation with Facebook for several years, and the company has invested in content moderators and machine learning technology to remove hate speech, the organizations believe it hasn’t done enough to stem the spread of racism, anti-Semitism and bigotry.

The tech giant has faced renewed pressure, including from some of its own employees who staged a virtual walkout, to remove or fact-check posts from President Trump regarding the ongoing protests and riots over racism and police brutality in the U.S. However, CEO Mark Zuckerberg defended the decision in a companywide video conference.

In contrast, Twitter put a label on Trump’s tweets for “glorifying violence.”

Organizers, who are starting with dozens of companies that advertise on Facebook and plan to eventually include hundreds, are hoping that the boycott has the effect of forcing the social network to move quickly.

“We have long seen how Facebook has allowed some of the worst elements of society into our homes and our lives. When this hate spreads online it causes tremendous harm and also becomes permissible offline,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, ADL CEO, in a statement emailed to Fox News.


“Our organizations have tried individually and collectively to push Facebook to make their platforms safer, but they have repeatedly failed to take meaningful action. We hope this campaign finally shows Facebook how much their users and their advertisers want them to make serious changes for the better,” he added.

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Snap CEO Evan Spiegel defended the company’s action of limiting the reach of President Trump’s content by invoking the First Amendment and free speech, adding that other tech platforms should be more willing to emulate them.

Spiegel, who oversees Snapchat and Bitmoji, made the comments during an interview with Bloomberg that was published on Thursday.

His remarks come after Twitter began fact-checking the president’s tweets last month and providing links to hand-picked news articles, whenever it deems his comments to be untruthful.

“The government is explicitly threatening private platforms about exercising their First Amendment rights,” Spiegel said.


Facebook has thus far reportedly remained neutral and declined to initiate a fact-check protocol against the commander in chief, citing free speech. Some employees, however, were unhappy with the decision, according to Bloomberg.

“The people’s elected representatives should set the rules, and we will follow them,” Facebook said in a statement. “There is an election coming in November and we will protect political speech, even when we strongly disagree with it.”

Spiegel argued to Bloomberg that the First Amendment protects the speech of companies against censorship from the government.


“I’ve been surprised that other platforms are less willing to exercise their First Amendment rights to decide what’s right and wrong,” he said. “We would be devastated if we felt like our products were being used to do bad things in the world.”

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