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This story originally appeared on Engadget

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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Advertisements for 530 brands — including Unilever, Adidas, White Castle, Starbucks and Coca-Cola — are set to disappear from Facebook starting Wednesday as the Stop Hate for Profit boycott campaign gets going.

Amid a nationwide reckoning over systemic racism and police brutality, a broad range of multinational companies have joined the effort — pushed by civil rights groups who have grown frustrated with Facebook — to pressure the social network led by CEO Mark Zuckerberg into taking more concrete steps to crack down on hate speech.

A range of top Facebook executives, including Carolyn Everson, vice president of global business solutions, Neil Potts, public policy director, and Zuckerberg himself have held meetings with or reached out to advertisers in recent days, according to Reuters and other reports.


However, sources told Reuters that the executives offered no new details on how they would tackle hate speech. They apparently pointed back to recent press releases, frustrating advertisers on the calls who believe those plans do not go far enough.


“It’s simply not moving,” one executive at a major ad agency said of the conversations.

Zuckerberg, along with Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg and Chief Product Officer Chris Cox have agreed to meet with the organizers of the boycott, a spokeswoman confirmed to Reuters on Tuesday.

Facebook also has said it would submit to an outside audit of its hate speech controls. In addition, the company is in the process of a multi-year, broader civil rights audit.

It remains to be seen how much of an impact the boycott will have on Facebook’s bottom line. Although advertising accounts for the vast amount of its annual revenue ($70 billion in 2019), the top 100 brands only brought in 6 percent of that total, with most of the ads coming from small businesses, Reuters reports.


“Facebook does not profit from hate. Billions of people use Facebook and Instagram because they have good experiences — they don’t want to see hateful content, our advertisers don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to see it. There is no incentive for us to do anything but remove it,” said Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, in a blog post that defended and detailed the company’s efforts to stamp out hate on its platforms.

In the same blog post, Facebook also announced a major push toward registering some 4 million U.S. voters by featuring information at the top of their News Feed this Friday.

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Reddit is banning r/The_Donald along with almost 2,000 other online communities after updating its content policy to crack down harder on hate speech, the company announced on Monday.

In a blog post explaining the company’s new rules, CEO Steve Huffman said users of the r/The_Donald subreddit had violated the site’s policies for years.

“The community has consistently hosted and upvoted more rule-breaking content than average (Rule 1), antagonized us and other communities (Rules 2 and 8), and its mods have refused to meet our most basic expectations,” Huffman said.


President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

President Donald Trump speaks with reporters before departing on Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House on Tuesday.  (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In the same way, r/ChapoTrapHouse, a spinoff of the left-wing podcast, was also hosting content in violation of the site’s rules, the chief executive said.

The decision to ban these communities comes as Silicon Valley is facing a major reckoning — in part sparked by ongoing nationwide protests over systemic racism — over its role in facilitating the spread of hate speech and disinformation.

Under pressure as more than 90 brands halted their advertising on the platform, Facebook announced on Friday that it would institute stronger rules barring hate speech in ads and add warning labels to politicians’ statements that break its rules. Twitter has begun to put warning labels on President Trump’s tweets that are in violation of its policies. And the live-streaming platform Twitch has temporarily banned Trump over “hateful conduct.”

“Until now, we’ve worked in good faith to help them preserve the community as a space for its users—through warnings, mod changes, quarantining, and more,” Huffman said, adding that views “across the political spectrum” are permitted as long as people work within the platform’s policies in good faith.


“I have to admit that I’ve struggled with balancing my values as an American, and around free speech and free expression, with my values and the company’s values around common human decency,” Huffman said in a call with reporters, per The Verge.

Reddit has over 430 million average active monthly users, more than 130,000 active communities and is the fifth most-visited site in the United States, according to the company.

When reached by Fox News, the Trump campaign provided the following statement:

“To hear directly from the President, people should download the Trump app and text ‘Trump’ to 88022,” said Tim Murtaugh, director of communications for the Trump campaign.

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YouTube has banned several prominent white supremacist channels, including those belonging to David Duke and Richard Spencer.

The Google-owned video platform has long been criticized by civil rights groups and technologists for not doing enough to combat hate and supremacist speech. A ProPublica investigation in early 2019 found that white supremacists and neo-Nazis were using YouTube to recruit members and spread their vile messages.

The banned channels include American Renaissance, Spencer’s National Policy Institute and that of Stefan Molyneux. The channels repeatedly violated YouTube’s policies by alleging that members of protected groups were inferior. These come alongside other violations that led to YouTube taking action.

“We have strict policies prohibiting hate speech on YouTube, and terminate any channel that repeatedly or egregiously violates those policies,” a YouTube spokesperson told Fox News via email. “After updating our guidelines to better address supremacist content, we saw a 5x spike in video removals and have terminated over 25,000 channels for violating our hate speech policies.”


The Google-owned tech platform is cracking down on white supremacist content and other hate speech.

The Google-owned tech platform is cracking down on white supremacist content and other hate speech.
(Getty Images/YouTube)

In June 2019, YouTube announced it would remove thousands of channels for hate speech violations. It began to specifically prohibit “videos alleging that a group is superior in order to justify discrimination, segregation or exclusion based on qualities like age, gender, race, caste, religion, sexual orientation or veteran status.”


In the first quarter of this year, YouTube removed over 100,000 videos and 100 million comments for violating its hate and harassment policies.

Several of the people who have been banned took to Twitter to decry the latest decision from YouTube.

The popular video platform’s decision comes on the same week that Twitch temporarily banned President Trump over hate speech violations and Reddit banned almost 2,000 communities, including “TheDonald,” also for violating its hate speech rules.

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