‘Weaponized’ Facebook fails to protect civil rights, audit says

(Reuters) – Facebook Inc’s decisions to allow controversial posts by President Donald Trump established a “terrible precedent” that could allow the platform to be “weaponized to suppress voting,” an external civil rights audit found on Wednesday.

The auditors expressed “significant concern” about the company’s steadfast commitment to protect a particular definition of free expression, even where that has meant allowing harmful and divisive rhetoric that amplifies hate speech and threatens civil rights.

By declining to hold politicians to the same rules as everyone else, Facebook created a “hierarchy of speech” that “privileges certain voices” over others, they wrote.

Racial justice group Color Of Change, which pushed for Facebook to have an audit and helped organize the advertising boycott, said the report correctly assessed the company’s approach as “incremental and counterproductive.”

Muslim Advocates, which also pushed for the audit, said Wednesday it confirmed Facebook enables anti-Muslim violence.

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg defended Facebook’s policy of not fact-checking political ads in a speech at Georgetown University last year where he cited protests against the Vietnam War.

“Allowing the Trump posts to remain establishes a terrible precedent that may lead other politicians and non-politicians to spread false information about legal voting methods, which would effectively allow the platform to be weaponized to suppress voting,” the auditors said.

Facebook commissioned the audit in 2018 as part of its response to a range of criticism over issues such as data privacy, voter suppression, incitement of violence and a lack of transparency in political advertising. The audit was led by Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s legislative office.

The company did not immediately indicate specific steps it would take in response to the findings but issued a statement attributed to Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg describing the audit as a “really important process for our company.”