The following column by Farhana Khera, executive director of Muslim Advocates, ran in the San Jose Mercury News on December 20, 2018.
We’re finally calling it. Facebook is incapable of addressing the role it has played in enabling hate and hate violence in the United States and around the world; that’s why more than 30 groups are calling for major structural reforms to Facebook’s board of directors.
The board, as currently constituted, is not equipped to handle or even grasp the weight of our concerns. It’s time for the board to be expanded, for Mark Zuckerberg to resign as its chair, and for COO Sheryl Sandberg to step down from it. These changes should make room for a renewed and expanded board that’s independent, holds the CEO, COO and other senior managers accountable, and has members with expertise in privacy and civil rights.Facebook’s platforms have become a primary organizing tool for hate and genocide globally; armed protests in front of mosques, black voter suppression, violent race and religious riots, widespread hate group organizing, and countless efforts to foment bigotry around the world are organized on Facebook and WhatsApp. In the United States, Facebook has been the primary organizing tool for hate and militia groups hosting armed Ramadan protests, many outside of mosques; the event pages were riddled with violent anti-Muslim memes. In fact, the United Nations has labeled Facebook “a beast” and declared that the platform had a “determining role” in the genocide of the Rohingya.
But when civil rights groups attempted to work in good faith with Facebook’s leadership to make meaningful changes to its platforms, our worst fears were confirmed: Facebook leadership was approaching our serious concerns with dirty hands. We made constructive suggestions and engaged in tough but meaningful dialogue with Sandberg and other senior officials at Facebook. We asked for transparency regarding the weaponizing of bigotry by the Russians, employment of more people with civil rights and civil liberties expertise, better monitoring of hate speech and removal of hate groups from the platform, an end to the ability of hate groups to use Facebook event pages to target people based on race, religion, ethnicity and sexual orientation, and for a thorough, independent and public civil rights audit.
Yet, Zuckerberg testified under oath before Congress that hate groups were not allowed to organize on Facebook, despite rampant hate group organizing happening on Facebook. Its civil rights audit was accompanied by an audit of anti-conservative bias employing one of Congress’s most well-known anti-Muslim bigots. When news recently broke that the company sanctioned campaigns to use anti-Semitism and other forms of bigotry to target civil rights groups, it crossed the line of decency.
The changes that we’re now demanding would ensure greater accountability of Facebook’s senior leadership, accountability that is woefully needed and long overdue. Our changes would also ensure diverse points of view, as well as expertise on how the company should operate a vast multi-faceted online community.
Zuckerberg and Sandberg have been given ample opportunity to respond to the many serious civil and human rights concerns about their conduct and the company’s policies and practices. It is time for them to step down — him as board chair, and her as board member — and for the board to reclaim its role as an independent overseer of the company and its mission and operations.
In order for Facebook to truly be the company it claims to be, one that can “give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,” it needs to start at the top.
Farhana Khera is the executive director of Muslim Advocates, a national civil rights organization.