News & Analysis

Facebook’s Civil Rights Record Gets a Hammering


An audit conducted by former ACLU director Laura W. Murphy in the company of a bevy of lawyers over Facebook’s growing authority and potential harmfully impact on certain marginalized communities doesn’t cover the social media giant in glory. But, that was only to be expected as Mark Zuckerberg hasn’t exactly been apologetic about things. 

The multi-year probe into Facebook’s policies and their ramifications on the civil rights of its more than 2.5 billion users asks more questions that it leaves answers for. The audit has collected concerns from a wide range of civil rights organisations as well as lawmakers who turned critical since the 2016 elections in the United States. 

It is not as though the report is totally critical of Facebook’s history on civil rights and its impact on society. There are several occasions where the auditors have found the company’s response to issues on civil rights to be in tune with expectations though they do suggest that Facebook has often taken a one-step-forward-two-steps-back approach in recent times.

A report published on TechCrunch quotes the auditors as saying that while the process of the audit was meaningful ahd led to some significant improvements in the platform, they also observed that Facebook “made some painful decisions over the past nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights.”

The report also notes that the audit does not put Facebook’s decisions in the context of its competitors but evaluates it based on Facebook’s own behaviour from the past. The auditors give a thumbs-up to the company for cooperating with the audit, though the move was probably a result of pressure from outside groups who were concerned about hate crimes, misinformation and voter suppression. 

In spite of the progress, the auditors held the view that there are several areas of concern, especially in the area of voter suppression policies in the lead up to the 2020 US Presidential elections. For India too, this could be a concern as several states are looking at assembly elections while the country’s next Lok Sabha polls would come only in three years’ time. 

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