Facebook recognises the impact that hate speech has, and continues to have on its billions of users, and while it has worked on this issue over the past couple of years, it “has to get better at finding and removing hateful content”, said company COO Sheryl Sandberg via a Facebook post earlier today. The top Facebook executive also underlined a number of key objectives to note for the coming days, starting with an all-important meeting with the organisers of the ‘Stop Hate for Profit’ campaign later today.
Sandberg’s take on Facebook’s hate speech problem came hours before her and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s meeting with the people whose campaign has seen major brands withdraw significant ad spending from the company’s platforms, as a mark of protest against Facebook’s recent policies and takes on certain issues. Facebook found itself in hot waters when it chose to not label or take down US president Donald Trump’s incendiary comments at the peak of the Black Lives Matter protests in the country. While Zuckerberg defended his platform by stating keeping the post on the platform was ensuring that Facebook only acted as an intermediary and not a decision maker on behalf of its users, the move was seen by many as the company’s refusal to make a political statement – something that clearly falls in line with Zuckerberg’s line of thought.
Sandberg has further stated that the company will be publishing an independently conducted civil rights audit by tomorrow, which she states is the first of its kind by any social media company in the world. The report will be a review of Facebook’s internal and public policies and practices over the past two years. “This two-year journey has had a profound effect on our culture and the way we think about our impact on the world. While the audit was planned and most of it carried out long before recent events, its release couldn’t come at a more important time. It has helped us learn a lot about what we could do better, and we have put many recommendations from the auditors and the wider civil rights community into practice,” Sandberg added on the matter.
Sandberg has also stated that Facebook’s Diversity and Inclusion report will also be published “soon after”, for which too she observed that the company has “clearly more to do”, even though she claims that Facebook has made progress. Touching further on the topic of hate and Facebook’s actions against it, she said, “We are making changes – not for financial reasons or advertiser pressure, but because it is the right thing to do. We have worked for years to try to minimise the presence of hate on our platform. That’s why we agreed to undertake the civil rights audit two years ago. Over many years, we’ve spent billions of dollars on teams and technology to find and remove hate – as well as protect the integrity of our platform more generally – and have become a pioneer in using artificial intelligence technology to remove hateful content at scale. We are working hard every day to enforce our policies with ever greater precision and speed.”
“We are never going to be perfect, but we care about this deeply,” said Sandberg in conclusion of her post. With major brands such as Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Unilever and Verizon boycotting Facebook as an advertising platform, it now remains to be seen what steps do Zuckerberg and Sandberg take in the days and weeks going forward to address these issues. The organic downturn in ad spends as a result of the Covid-19-hit economies will likely have done the company no favours in the immediate future, either.