Groups Say Facebook Civil Rights Audit Needs Audit

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Color of Change don't trust Facebook's civil rights audit and want it to verify the status of that audit in the wake of reports it has tried to undermine its critics.

In a letter to the company's founder, Mark Zuckerberg, and COO Sheryl Sandberg, the groups, actually a coalition of more than 200 groups, said the company needed to take immediate steps to restore public trust, trust that has been eroded with each new revelation about how the company had "undermined our democracy and civil society."

Facebook has been a lightning rod for criticism inside and outside the Beltway, thanks in large part to the Cambridge Analytica user data sharing fiasco.

Related: Cruz Says Big Tech Needs Reining In

The diversity groups were hurling plenty of those lightning bolts. "For years, Facebook’s refusal to acknowledge and/or chronic mismanagement of civil and human rights violations occurring on the platform have raised many questions about Facebook—primarily, whether you are willing or able to fix the toxic online environment that you have allowed to flourish."

Facebook appeared to signal it was willing to try by conducting the civil rights audit. But the groups cited a New York Times story about how the company "chose to work in the shadows (and with unscrupulous partners) to undermine your critics, foment anti-Semitism, validate right-wing conspiracy theories" and more. Given all that, they said, they can only conclude that "adverse forces and incentives within the company are undermining the civil rights audit process."

They also say an internal Facebook investigation doesn't quite cut it, which is why they wanted an independent third party to do the vetting.

The groups also did not like that the announcement of the audit was twinned with one about an investigation into charges of anti-conservative bias. Zuckerberg has told legislators that there is no systematic bias, but that their concerns about a liberal bias in Silicon Valley generally were legitimate.

They said that they were dismayed that the twin announcements appeared to suggest one was balancing the other.

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Color Of Change want an update on the audit's status and suggest the company needs:

  • "A C-Suite level Chief User Advocate charged with representing users’ needs who will work in close consultation with civil rights organizations;
  • "A public review of practices and mechanisms put in place by Facebook to address civil rights violations and increase public transparency;
  • "A public report with recommendations and a timeline for implementation shared upon conclusion of the review;
  • "The creation of a public-facing board committee or task force that is provided with the resources and commitment by leadership at the highest levels necessary to ensure full implementation of the report’s recommendations."
John Eggerton

Contributing editor John Eggerton has been an editor and/or writer on media regulation, legislation and policy for over four decades, including covering the FCC, FTC, Congress, the major media trade associations, and the federal courts. In addition to Multichannel News and Broadcasting + Cable, his work has appeared in Radio World, TV Technology, TV Fax, This Week in Consumer Electronics, Variety and the Encyclopedia Britannica.