In an open letter to Facebook’s leadership posted earlier today, the attorneys general from 20 states called on the company to do more to fight intimidation, discrimination, disinformation, harassment and hate speech on the platform.
“Although Facebook has made some progress in counteracting the use of its platform to dehumanize and demean, that is just the beginning of what is necessary,” the attorneys general wrote. “Private parties, organized groups, and public officials continue to use Facebook to spread misinformation and project messages of hate against different groups of Americans. In many cases, these messages lead to intimidation and harassment of particular individuals online.”
Roughly 40% of Americans have experienced online harassment, according to a study by the Anti-Defamation League, and around 70% of those reporting harassment said it came on Facebook or its associated platforms, according to the report.
So the attorneys general asked Facebook to take more steps to protect users and provide redress for those platform participants who are victims of intimidation and harassment.
Their letter joins a chorus of consternation that has arisen to chastise the platform and its chief executive for doing too little, too late to stem the hate speech and misinformation that has come to define the platform’s experience for many users.
Over the summer, some of the biggest brands in the U.S. pulled advertising from social media platforms in response to a campaign from civil rights organizations.
That boycott includes huge mainstream brands, including Coca-Cola, Best Buy, Ford and Verizon. Other brands on board include Adidas, Ben & Jerry’s, Reebok, REI, Patagonia and Vans.
While some of the companies may have ulterior motives for pulling advertising, pressure has been growing on the company to take more action against the provocateurs on its platform.
In the face of all this criticism, Zuckerberg has been steadfast in his refusal to budge (even as his logic becomes increasingly tortured).
The attorneys general agree with these other assessments. “[The] steps you have taken thus far have fallen short,” the attorneys wrote. “With the vast resources at your disposal, we believe there is much more that you can do to prevent the use of Facebook as a vehicle for misinformation and discrimination, and to prevent your users from being victimized by harassment and intimidation on your platforms.”
The leaders of the legal arms of state governments from California to the District of Columbia took the company to task and called on its leadership to follow the steps highlighted in its Civil Rights Audit to strengthen its commitment to civil rights and fighting disinformation.
Facebook also may be beginning to listen to its critics. Earlier this evening the company took down a post from President Donald Trump that included misinformation about the COVID-19 epidemic.
It’s a decision that could signal a new direction for Facebook, which has taken incremental steps to distance itself from the perception that the company deliberately turns a blind eye to the president’s potentially harmful behavior.
“This video includes false claims that a group of people is immune from COVID-19 which is a violation of our policies around harmful COVID misinformation,” Facebook’s Liz Bourgeois said in a statement provided to TechCrunch.
Facebook also had a response for the attorneys general. In a statement issued to NBC News, Facebook spokesperson Daniel Roberts said that Facebook was working to ensure people feel safe on the internet.
“Hate speech is an issue across the internet and we are working to make Facebook as safe as possible by investing billions to keep hate off our platform and fight misinformation,” Roberts told the network in a statement.