Civil Rights Groups Urge Facebook to Address Longstanding Issues with Hate Speech and Bigotry

Washington, DC – Last night, 19 major civil rights groups sent a public letter to Facebook detailing their concerns with the company’s inadequate response to the hate speech and bigotry that flourishes on its platform. The letter comes in advance of congressional hearings on how Russian operatives used the platform to spread divisive content in the lead-up to the 2016 election.

Click here to read the letter.

Many of the signers attended recent meetings with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and have been urging the company to make concrete changes for a long time, writing that “over the years, many of us have raised concerns about how your platform may have a negative impact on our communities, with disappointing results…Though in the past you have displayed a willingness to listen to our concerns, we have yet to see meaningful change. It is our hope that recent developments will mark a new chapter in Facebook’s commitment to protecting the rights of all who use your platform.”

Signatories include: Muslim Advocates, Arab American Institute (AAI), Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC, Center for Media Justice, Center for New Community, Color of Change, CREDO, Human Rights Campaign (HRC), The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC),, NAACP, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc. (LDF), National Center for Lesbian Rights, National Hispanic Media Coalition, National LGBTQ Task Force, National Sikh Campaign, Sikh Coalition, and the Southern Poverty Law Center.

The letters closes with several concrete suggested steps that Facebook can take to begin addressing these concerns:

  1. Fully disclose to the public all of the ads, pages, events, accounts, and posts you have traced back to Russian operatives targeting African American, LGBTQ, and Muslim communities.  In particular, we believe that Facebook has a special responsibility to notify those individuals and organizations who have been impersonated or misrepresented.
  2. Bring on an independent third-party team to conduct a thorough and public audit of the civil rights impact of your policies and programs, as well as how the platform has been used by hate groups, political entities, and others to stoke racial or religious resentment or violence.  Other leading companies in the industry like Airbnb have made the decision to conduct such an assessment, and we hope you will follow their lead.
  3. Regularly convene a new working group of a diverse group of civil rights organizations working to counter bigotry, and solicit input on policies and processes from this group. And, integrate addressing hate into Facebook’s corporate structure by:
    1. Assigning a board committee with responsibility for assessing management efforts to stop hate groups, state actors, and individuals engaged in hate from using your platform and tools;
    2. Assigning a senior manager who is a member of Facebook’s Executive Team with authority to oversee addressing hate company-wide and name that person publicly and employing staff with expertise in this area to vet advertisements and develop process and procedures the address this issue; and,
    3. Creating a committee of outside advisors with expertise in identifying and tracking hate who will be responsible for producing an annual report on the effectiveness of steps taken by Facebook.
  4. Develop, with input from diverse civil rights groups and experts, and make public a clear process for how Facebook:
    1. Reviews content constituting hate speech;
    2. Reviews efforts to use Facebook as a platform to stoke identity-based, racial, or religious resentment or violent actions; and,
    3. Responds to complaints about content that may create fear or chill speech on Facebook.
  5. Make public detailed information regarding training and support for anti-immigrant, anti-Muslim, anti-black, and anti-LGBTQ organizations, including the monetary value of these services; and establish a fund to provide grants to organizations combating hatred and bigotry.

Muslim Advocates is a national legal advocacy and educational organization that works on the frontlines of civil rights to guarantee freedom and justice for Americans of all faiths.