Facebook announces crackdowns on white supremacy and ad discrimination

2 Jul 2019

Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Facebook has conceded that its previous ban on praise of white supremacy was not exhaustive enough, and so has rolled out a series of new policies designed to curb hate speech on the platform.

Facebook has announced a series of new policies surrounding enforcement against harmful content, discrimination in ads, misinformation and suppression regarding the upcoming US elections and census, and more in the latest update of its civil rights audit.

The audit, led by prominent civil liberties and civil rights leader Laura Murphy, was first announced in May 2018, with the first update coming out in December of that year. This initial round of updates saw Facebook beef up its policy surrounding voter suppression and misinformation, such as false claims of polling place closures, long lines and waiting times, which were reportedly leveraged by campaigns originating in Russia to target African American voters.

This latest update sees the company address a variety of problems on the platform. Speaking in a statement released by the company newsroom, chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg said: “Civil rights are the foundation of a free and just society – and something we care deeply about as a company. We want to make sure we’re advancing civil rights on our platform, and today we’re sharing a second report that details our efforts.”

The first notable effort in the report concerns Facebook’s continued battle to ward off the swell of far-right and white nationalist activity on its platform. Facebook previously announced a ban on white nationalism in March 2019. This expanded upon a precious policy, bringing into the fold posts that praise or support white separatism and white nationalism.

The latest report, however, concedes that this ban is not expansive enough to effectively police against the incitement of hate speech. The audit has now recommended that Facebook ban all content that supports white nationalist ideology, even if the terms ‘white nationalism’ and ‘white separatism’ are not explicitly used.

“While Facebook has long prohibited statements of white supremacy and white supremacist organisations … [it] previously did not prohibit white nationalism or white separatism,” the report explains.

“Civil rights groups criticised Facebook’s treatment of these ideologies as less harmful or otherwise distinct from white supremacy, and highlighted the connection between white nationalism and white separatism and hate organisations, symbols, and figures, as well as specific acts of violence.”

The new moderation policy will also address the fact that in a quest to remove harmful, racist content, Facebook has previously temporarily banned social justice activists speaking out against racism by mistake.

Discrimination in advertising

This latest report also addresses the discrimination that was previously rife in its advertising for housing, employment and credit.

For years, civil rights groups pilloried the social media for allowing advertisers to target users based on race, gender, age and more, effectively enabling them to discriminate against minorities, women and the elderly by excluding them.

In March, the company reached a historic settlement on the matter and agreed to pay out $5m to settle five lawsuits. It also agreed to partner with the National Fair Housing Alliance, the American Civil Liberties Union and the Communication Workers of America union to prevent discrimination.

Facebook previously removed various categories to prevent ads being filtered based on protected classes. Now, the company has revealed, advertisers running employment, housing and credit ads will no longer be allowed to target based on age, gender or ZIP code.

US 2020 census

The US will conduct a census in 2020, and Facebook has vowed to crack down on misinformation in regard to this as a “high priority”. This expands on the aforementioned anti-interference efforts rolled out for elections.

The audit claims that Facebook will have a dedicated team tasked with fighting fake census-related stories, and this will be enforced using artificial intelligence.

This announcement comes just as the US supreme court blocked efforts by president Donald Trump to include a question in this latest census regarding American citizenship.

View of Facebook app open on smartphone. Image: Mactrunk/Depositphotos

Eva Short was a journalist at Silicon Republic