NAACP Targets Facebook
Facebook, the world’s largest and most troubled social media platform is the target of a NAACP call for boycott. The nations leading civil rights group has also returned donations made by Facebook. The NAACP is pointing to Facebook’s growing list of privacy and data handling issues and advertising discrimination tools in housing and jobs.
According to the civil rights group “Facebook’s engagement with partisan firms, its targeting of political opponents, the spread of misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African-American community is reprehensible.”
Black people use Facebook in enormous numbers. According to Facebook’s own research nearly 9 out of 10 black people use the platform to keep in touch with friends and family. And yet there is a serious problem with how Facebook serves the African-American user and community as a whole.
Black people have long faced discrimination and voter suppression efforts since the end of slavery. Facebook has failed to account for the use of its platform to exclude blacks from the political process. Facebook was the primary tool used by the Russians to manipulate and mis-inform blacks during the last presidential election. Researchers found that Russian operatives had set up 30 Facebook pages targeting African-Americans.
But was Facebook aware of the manipulation? Did they turn a blind eye to the activity? Studies by Oxford University’s Computational Propaganda Project and Graphika, and another by cybersecurity company, New Knowledge, found that social media networks have not been completely honest with lawmakers about the misinformation campaigns.
The reports, released in December, reveal how the Russian propaganda machine the ‘Internet Research Agency’ used Facebook and other social media platforms to suppress and mis-inform black voters.
Facebook was not the lone social media platform used against black voters. African-Americans were the prime target for misinformation from social platforms like Instagram (owned by Facebook) Twitter, YouTube, Google+, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, and Vine.
According to New Knowledge U.S. social media companies failed to recognize the extent to which their platforms are being used for foreign propaganda.
A New Knowledge white papers asserted that, “The Instagram and Facebook engagement statistics belie the claim that this was a small operation, it was far more than only $100,000 of Facebook ads, as originally asserted by Facebook executives. The ad engagements were a minor factor in a much broader, organically driven influence operation.”
Facebook’s growing black problem is both external and internal. Black executives of the company are speaking out. Former Facebook executive Mark S. Luckie recently sent out a 2,500-word memo detailing how the company excluded and discriminated against black employees and users. In addition fake pages have sprung up on Facebook that claim to be something they are not. A fake BlackLivesMatter page collected hundreds of thousands of dollars in contributions. The page was actually owned by a white Australian man.
Another grievance voiced by the NAACP is the lack of diversity in the tech sector and Facebook. Last year, a report published by Facebook revealed that just 145 of the company’s 8,446 employees (1.7 percent) were African-American. According to Luckie in some buildings there are more Black Lives Matter posters that black people.
In 2016 Facebook blamed the lack of diversity on the lack of skilled African-Americans in the technology field and that is a legitimate point. Education plays a major factor in diversity hiring. According to a 2018 report by the National Urban League HBCUs receive far less funding in comparison to those of predominantly white institutions and lag behind in the percentage of students obtaining STEM degrees. Facebook continues to claims it is working hard to increase diversity in its workforce.
In response to the NAACP call for a boycott Facebook issued the following statement.
“We understand the areas of concern that the NAACP and other civil rights groups have raised with us and we are grateful for their feedback. We’re listening and we agree that we have areas that we can improve. We have acknowledged and apologized for the security incidents and privacy missteps we’ve had in the past, and we continue to invest in solutions to keep our platform safe and improve. For example, we’ve put in more than three dozen privacy controls, created a privacy governance team, and ensured that our privacy program managers collaborate closely with our products team. We’ve also doubled the team that works on security from 10,000 to 20,000.We have been working on our civil rights audit since May to address some of the other critiques from the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, and we will continue that work and provide periodic updates until the audit is complete.”