Facebook auditor issues damning report on response to Trump posts and fact-checking

Facebook logo on a Pixel 4 XL
Facebook logo on a Pixel 4 XL (Image credit: Joe Maring / Android Central)

What you need to know

  • Facebook has today published the findings of its third civil rights audit.
  • The company says it still has "a long way to go".
  • Specifically, it says it fell short regarding its response to recent President Trump posts and fact-checking.

Facebook has published the findings of its third civil rights audit, saying the company fell short in response to posts made by President Trump.

In a blog today Facebook stated:

Today, Facebook's third civil rights audit report is being published — bringing to a close an independent two-year review of our policies and practices by noted civil liberties and civil rights expert Laura W. Murphy and Megan Cacace, partner in the civil rights law firm Relman Colfax, PLLC. This two-year journey has had a profound effect on the way we think about our impact on the world.

Facebook says the audit covered a wide range of civil rights issues including policies against hate and says that whilst it has been carried out over two years, heavy criticism and advertiser boycotts mean "its release couldn't come at a more important time."

Facebook says that it has "become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go." Noting some of the specific findings, Facebook says it needs to enhance the team and processes it uses to deal with civil rights issues and better integrate these issues into its policies.

Facebook says it also must go further on voter suppression and hate.

"In the auditors' view, our voter suppression policies have improved significantly, but their application, most notably in relation to President Trump's recent statements about mail-in-ballots, demonstrates a reading of our policies that is too narrow."

Facebook acknowledged that some of its "starkest criticism" has come over its decision not to remove posts by President Trump:

In the auditors' view, the emphasis we've placed on free expression has not been adequately balanced by the critical value of non-discrimination. The auditors also strongly disagree with our policy to not fact-check politicians, and believe that the end result means more voice for those in positions of power.

The audit itself states:

Ironically, Facebook has no qualms about reining in speech by the proponents of the anti-vaccination movement, or limiting misinformation about COVID -19, but when it comes to voting, Facebook has been far too reluctant to adopt strong rules to limit misinformation and voter suppression. With less than five months before a presidential election, it confounds the Auditors as to why Facebook has failed to grasp the urgency of interpreting existing policies to make them effective against suppression and ensuring that their enforcement tools are as effective as possible. Facebook's failure to remove the Trump voting-related posts and close enforcement gaps seems to reflect a statement of values that protecting free expression is more important than other stated company values.

The auditors said that the were "deeply troubled" by Facebook's refusal to reverse the decision about the Trump Posts, which they say establish a precedent for other speakers on the platform.

On fact-checking, the auditors write:

Specifically, we have grave concerns that the combination of the company's decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking and the precedents set by its recent decisions on President Trump's posts, leaves the door open for the platform to be used by other politicians to interfere with voting. If politicians are free to mislead people about official voting methods (by labeling ballots illegal or making other misleading statements that go unchecked, for example) and are allowed to use not-so-subtle dog whistles with impunity to incite violence against groups advocating for racial justice, this does not bode well for the hostile voting environment that can be facilitated by Facebook in the United States.

Facebook says the audit has birthed "significant improvements" to the platform including the expansion of voter suppression policies, which prohibit threats that voting will result in law enforcement consequences, as well as coordinated interference. It also highlighted its Voting Information Centers on the platform, banning ads that are divisive or include fear-mongering statements. Facebook also says it has committed to bringing on 30% more people of color, including 30% more Black people to positions of leadership.

You can read the full audit report here.

Stephen Warwick