Big Coalition of Civil Rights and Social Justice Groups Tells Facebook to Stop Censoring So Many People

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By Ian Miles Cheong | 1:28 pm, January 19, 2017

A coalition of dozens of civil rights and social justice groups is pushing Facebook to change the way it moderates the platform, saying the company needs to stop spending so much time unnecessarily censoring content and focus more on clamping down on threats of violence.

Seventy-seven civil rights and social justice groups have signed an open letter to Facebook calling for reforms. They criticized Facebook for its lack of transparency, and the absence of a broad appeals process for users who have been censored. The coalition also calls for an external audit to assess the results of the company’s actions.

The coalition, which includes organizations like Daily Kos, Color of Change, Council on American Islamic Relations, and a variety of pro-Palestinian groups, says that its members have “experienced firsthand the uneven application of Facebook’s Community Standards and the drawbacks of relying on its users to report abusive content.”

It says that proponents of the Movement for Black Lives reported the removal of images “discussing racism and during protests,” under the justification that it violated the site’s rules, and pointed out their uneven application.

“Indeed, even as activists have been censored for political speech and for posting images critical of government actors—including police officers—Facebook’s third- party complaint process has failed to prevent the spread of violent threats and harassment by white supremacist hate groups on your platform.

“This pattern of censorship represents a double standard, one that seems to be addressed only through direct activist intervention or significant media attention.”

The coalition wants Facebook to extend its appeals process to images and posts that have been removed. At present, Facebook only allows users to appeal account suspensions. Additionally, the coalition is calling for Facebook to provide written communication to users explaining their decisions—something it has never provided.

A final demand calls for Facebook to provide public reports, with data on how the platform handles censorship. Such reports could include the number of times Facebook removed content from a user’s feed, the percentage of which was due to hate speech violations, the number of accounts deleted either at Facebook’s discretion or at the request of law enforcement agencies.

While social justice groups allege that Facebook’s treatment of them has been racially biased, Heat Street can cite numerous times conservative users were censored by the platform. Prominent conservatives like Lauren Southern have been censored for inoffensive posts. Further investigation reveals the company’s bizarre rules on hate speech, which are dictated by mathematical formulae.

Despite these groups’ general opposition to conservatives, there’s one thing everyone can agree upon: Facebook’s handling of censorship is in dire need of reform.

Ian Miles Cheong is a journalist and outspoken media critic. You can reach him through social media at @stillgray on Twitter and on Facebook.