Skip to main content

Facebook auditors call out Mark Zuckerberg for ‘vexing and heartbreaking decisions’

Facebook auditors call out Mark Zuckerberg for ‘vexing and heartbreaking decisions’

/

A new civil rights report finds that the platform should have banned Trump posts

Share this story

Illustration by James Bareham / The Verge

A team of civil rights auditors has delivered a scathing and unexpected indictment of Facebook’s recent moderation choices after a two-year examination of the platform’s practices and internal policies.

“While the audit process has been meaningful and has led to some significant improvements in the platform,” the report reads, “we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights.”

Published on Wednesday, the auditors’ final report is the result of an independent investigation by civil rights lawyers, conducted with Facebook’s active assistance. That investigation has produced two previous reports that examined voter suppression and algorithmic discrimination. Facebook agreed to undertake the audit and make the reports public after significant pressure from activist groups.

“Elevating free expression is a good thing, but it should apply to everyone.”

In the final report, the auditors give Facebook credit for expanding policies against voter suppression and census interference. But according to the report, that progress has been offset by “the vexing and heartbreaking decisions Facebook has made that represent significant setbacks for civil rights.”

The audit also pushes Facebook for stronger interpretations and enforcement of those policies ahead of the 2020 election as well as more direct action against algorithmic bias and organized hate against Jews, Muslims, and other targeted groups.

Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on how it will respond to the audit’s recommendations. The company has committed to hiring a full-time civil rights position to its policy team and has launched a separate oversight board that will independently review moderation decisions. But beyond those efforts, Facebook has made few commitments relating to the enforcement of civil rights on its platform.

In particular, auditors found that Facebook’s moderation of US President Donald Trump’s use of the platform has undermined its broader civil rights efforts. The auditors singled out three Trump posts from May — including one that was taken down by Twitter for inciting violence — all of which Facebook allowed to stand without moderator action.

“These decisions exposed a major hole in Facebook’s understanding and application of civil rights,” the auditors write in the report. “While these decisions were made ultimately at the highest level, we believe civil rights expertise was not sought and applied to the degree it should have been and the resulting decisions were devastating. Our fear was (and continues to be) that these decisions establish terrible precedent for others to emulate.”

Subsequent reporting from The Washington Post has found that Zuckerberg was involved in the decision to leave the posts up. After a personal call from Trump, Zuckerberg found that the posts did not violate Facebook policies.

But while leaving the posts up spared Facebook from the immediate political backlash, auditors worry the resulting precedent could encourage voter suppression around the world. “Elevating free expression is a good thing,” the report reads, “but it should apply to everyone.”

The report comes amid an ongoing boycott by Facebook advertisers, which takes issue with many of the same decisions detailed in the report. On Tuesday, boycott organizers met with Zuckerberg and other Facebook executives, but they came away frustrated by the platform’s apparent unwillingness to implement policy changes. One organizer described the meeting as “long on time but short on commitments.”

Civil rights groups have raised similar concerns about the audit report, calling on Facebook to commit to affirmative changes in response to the published recommendations.

“This audit is illuminating,” said Muslim Advocates Executive Director Farhana Khera, who had previously called for the report’s release, “but it is ultimately meaningless if Facebook does not agree to take dramatic and substantial steps to address the many failures outlined in the report. Unfortunately, Facebook continues to resist that change.”

Today’s Storystream

Feed refreshed Two hours ago Not just you

E
Twitter
Emma RothTwo hours ago
Rihanna’s headlining the Super Bowl Halftime Show.

Apple Music’s set to sponsor the Halftime Show next February, and it’s starting out strong with a performance from Rihanna. I honestly can’t remember which company sponsored the Halftime Show before Pepsi, so it’ll be nice to see how Apple handles the show for Super Bowl LVII.


E
Twitter
Emma Roth8:01 PM UTC
Starlink is growing.

The Elon Musk-owned satellite internet service, which covers all seven continents including Antarctica, has now made over 1 million user terminals. Musk has big plans for the service, which he hopes to expand to cruise ships, planes, and even school buses.

Musk recently said he’ll sidestep sanctions to activate the service in Iran, where the government put restrictions on communications due to mass protests. He followed through on his promise to bring Starlink to Ukraine at the start of Russia’s invasion, so we’ll have to wait and see if he manages to bring the service to Iran as well.


E
External Link
Emma Roth5:52 PM UTC
We might not get another Apple event this year.

While Apple was initially expected to hold an event to launch its rumored M2-equipped Macs and iPads in October, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman predicts Apple will announce its new devices in a series of press releases, website updates, and media briefings instead.

I know that it probably takes a lot of work to put these polished events together, but if Apple does pass on it this year, I will kind of miss vibing to the livestream’s music and seeing all the new products get presented.


E
External Link
Emma RothSep 24
California Governor Gavin Newsom vetoes the state’s “BitLicense” law.

The bill, called the Digital Financial Assets Law, would establish a regulatory framework for companies that transact with cryptocurrency in the state, similar to New York’s BitLicense system. In a statement, Newsom says it’s “premature to lock a licensing structure” and that implementing such a program is a “costly undertaking:”

A more flexible approach is needed to ensure regulatory oversight can keep up with rapidly evolving technology and use cases, and is tailored with the proper tools to address trends and mitigate consumer harm.


Welcome to the new Verge

Revolutionizing the media with blog posts

Nilay PatelSep 13
A
Youtube
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Look at this Thing.

At its Tudum event today, Netflix showed off a new clip from the Tim Burton series Wednesday, which focused on a very important character: the sentient hand known as Thing. The full series starts streaming on November 23rd.


A
The Verge
Andrew WebsterSep 24
Get ready for some Netflix news.

At 1PM ET today Netflix is streaming its second annual Tudum event, where you can expect to hear news about and see trailers from its biggest franchises, including The Witcher and Bridgerton. I’ll be covering the event live alongside my colleague Charles Pulliam-Moore, and you can also watch along at the link below. There will be lots of expected names during the stream, but I have my fingers crossed for a new season of Hemlock Grove.


T
Twitter
Tom WarrenSep 23
Has the Windows 11 2022 Update made your gaming PC stutter?

Nvidia GPU owners have been complaining of stuttering and poor frame rates with the latest Windows 11 update, but thankfully there’s a fix. Nvidia has identified an issue with its GeForce Experience overlay and the Windows 11 2022 Update (22H2). A fix is available in beta from Nvidia’s website.