New Report: Facebook Comes Up Short in Its Effort to Combat Online Hate

Too often, the platform responds only when pressured by racial-justice advocates or press exposés.

New Report: Facebook Comes Up Short in Its Effort to Combat Online Hate

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, Free Press released a report examining Facebook’s efforts to address the proliferation of racism and other forms of hate across its platform. The report, Facebook vs. Hate, analyzes the extent to which the company has changed its internal policies and “Community Standards” over the past year and makes a series of recommendations for needed improvements.

Change the Terms — a coalition of researchers and free-speech, digital-rights and civil-rights advocates co-founded by the Center for American Progress, Free Press and the Southern Poverty Law Center — developed model corporate policies and terms of service to help internet companies stop the proliferation of hate online while protecting public safety and promoting diverse voices.

The Free Press report, written by Free Press Senior Policy Counsel Carmen Scurato, compares Change the Terms’ recommended corporate policies with Facebook’s Community Standards, terms of service, recent enforcement actions, transparency reports and civil-rights audits. While considering both Facebook’s progress and where it’s falling short, the report highlights specific actions the company must take to more effectively address online hate.

Free Press acknowledges that Facebook has marshaled more resources toward addressing hate on the platform since the launch of Change the Terms. But the company is still far from adopting the coalition’s full set of recommended policies, specifically in the areas of enforcement, transparency, and evaluation and training.

“Facebook’s enforcement of its current policies remains lackluster and sporadic,” Scurato said. “Its ongoing failure to fully address the spread of hateful activities silences the speech of targeted groups, curbs democratic participation, and threatens people’s real-life safety and freedom. Facebook has intentionally built flexibility into its Community Standards on hate speech, allowing hateful activities to thrive when they don’t technically cross the company line.”

In March, Facebook implemented a new policy against explicit white-nationalist and white separatist content. But recent press reports have revealed that the company has enforced this policy in a narrow fashion and with little transparency. Too often, the platform responds only when pressured by racial-justice advocates or press exposés.

“Change the Terms welcomes the progress Facebook has made, but the company has a long way to go to combat hateful activities on its platform and keep our communities safe,” Scurato said. “Its apparent unwillingness to implement the full recommendations of its own civil-rights audit remains a central concern. The company should appoint a committee at the board level to prioritize and address civil rights, anti-discrimination, hate speech and disinformation issues.”

Free Press also calls for much more specific data so the public and researchers can fully understand the scope of the platform’s hate-speech problem. “Facebook should publish this information in a format that protects users’ personally identifiable information and should make this content available in formats that both people and machines can read.”

Change the Terms is a coalition of more than 50 organizations calling on online platforms to institute and enforce service-agreement prohibitions on hateful activities and commit to fair, effective and transparent rules and practices for content moderation.