WASHINGTON, D.C. — Attorney General Karl A. Racine, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal, and Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul today co-led a coalition of 20 state Attorneys General calling on Facebook, Inc. (Facebook), to adopt additional preventive measures against the spread of hate and disinformation on its platform. In a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the Attorneys General assert that “[p]rivate parties, organized groups and public officials continue to use Facebook to spread misinformation and project messages of hate against different groups of Americans,” leading to abuse of individual Facebook users. The letter cites the findings from Facebook’s own internal audit indicating that the company has refused to enforce its own policies against dangerous organizations and individuals, including white supremacists and other extremists. In response, the Attorneys General urge Facebook to “strengthen its commitment to civil rights and fighting disinformation and discrimination” and to offer greater support for users who fall victim to online intimidation and harassment.
“Facebook has a responsibility to protect hundreds of thousands of District residents—and, indeed, millions of Americans—from hate and harassment while interacting on the company’s online platforms,” said AG Racine. “Our coalition of state Attorneys General are calling on Facebook to not only meet the commitments it has already laid out for itself, but to step up its guard against the spread of extremism online.”
Facebook, headquartered in Menlo Park, California, is a digital social networking service with more than 2 billion active users around the world—including 250 million Americans, and hundreds of thousands of District residents. Through a website and a mobile application, Facebook allows users to communicate and share content with personalized networks of “friends.”
Recent surveys suggest more than 40 percent of Americans have experienced some form of online harassment, and that of those victims, more than 75 percent have reported being harassed on Facebook. The Attorneys General observe in their letter that much of the harassment reported by Facebook users focuses on characteristics protected by civil rights laws, including race, religion, ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender and gender identity, and disability. Such harassment can include cyberstalking, maliciously publishing someone’s personal information, or filing false police reports targeting the victim. The letter contends that at present, “recourse is unavailable for too many of these victims,” due to factors including insufficient, limited services offered to victims by Facebook.
The Attorneys General acknowledge that “Facebook has—on occasion—taken action to address violations of its terms of service in cases where we have helped elevate our constituents’ concerns.” But they further emphasize that many Facebook users continue to find the redress process “slow, frustrating, and ineffective.”
Recommendations for Facebook
The reforms recommended in today’s letter, many of which are highlighted in the company’s recent civil rights audit, include calls for Facebook to:
- Aggressively enforce policies against hate speech and extremist organizations: The audit found that while Facebook already has policies on the books to prevent the spread of hate speech, the company neglects to fully enforce these policies. The Attorneys General call on the company to follow through on its commitment to uphold its policies. Further, the Attorneys General urge the company to expand its policies in order to limit inflammatory advertisements that vilify minority groups.
- Allow public, third-party audits of hate content and enforcement to guide best practices: The Attorneys General recommend the company open itself up to additional audit efforts, in the vein of the civil rights audit. Further, they advise the company to accept ongoing, independent analysis of the platform’s content population scheme, and follow suggested best practices determined from these efforts.
- Enhance supportive services for users targeted by hateful or harassing content: The Attorneys General encourage Facebook to offer live, real-time assistance to victims of intimidation and harassment on the platform, make information about unlawful harassment and intimidation more readily available to users, and strengthen users’ ability to filter, report, and block malicious content.
A copy of the letter is available at: https://oag.dc.gov/sites/default/files/2020-08/Facebook-Hate-Disinformation-Multistate-Letter.pdf
AG Racine co-led this letter with New Jersey Attorney General Grewal and Illinois Attorney General Raoul. They were joined by the Attorneys General of California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Virginia, Vermont and Wisconsin.