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State attorneys general urge Facebook to fight hate speech

A sign at Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif.
A sign at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. Attorneys general representing 20 states say the company must do more to combat hate speech on its platforms.
(Paul Sakuma / Associated Press)

Twenty Democratic state attorneys general on Wednesday urged Facebook Inc.’s top executives to ramp up efforts to fight hate speech, discrimination and misinformation on the social media site.

The state officials argued in a letter addressed to Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg that while the tech giant has made progress in moderating problematic content, it still allows private groups and public officials to spread hateful content.

“While Facebook has — on occasion — taken action to address violations of its terms of service in cases where we have helped elevate our constituents’ concerns,” the attorneys general wrote, “everyday users of Facebook can find the process slow, frustrating, and ineffective.”

The letter adds to a chorus of lawmakers, advocacy groups and companies criticizing Facebook for not doing enough to curb voter suppression, white supremacist groups, hate speech and discriminatory behavior.

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Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement that the company was investing billions of dollars to fight hate and misinformation on its platform. Facebook has committed itself to building a special landing page with election information that it will attach to vote-related posts and to starting a new program to register voters. It also has a policy banning white supremacy content on its platform.

All 20 of the attorneys general are Democrats, underscoring the divide between the parties over social media content moderation. While Democrats complain that Facebook does too little to monitor hate speech and election disinformation, Republicans often complain that the company, along with Twitter and other social media sites, interferes too often with free-speech rights.

The attorneys general recommended that Facebook allow third-party audits of its enforcement of hate content, expand its policies against inflammatory advertisements targeting minority groups and give users greater control to filter out offensive content.

The letter also seized on the results of an independent civil rights audit, which found the company was allowing hate content, inaccurate information and voter suppression messages to go unchecked.

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Earlier this week, the Anti-Defamation League, which monitors hate speech against Jewish people, released a report chronicling private Facebook groups with large followings that the league says spread hate, conspiracy theories and misinformation.

The report highlighted a group called White Lives Matter, which the Anti-Defamation League said spreads white supremacist content. There are also groups that amplify misinformation and anti-Semitic content about billionaire George Soros, the report said, including the fringe conspiracy movement QAnon, which has promoted the idea that governments are controlled by a group of pedophiles.

The Anti-Defamation League — along with Color of Change and the National Assn. for the Advancement of Colored People — organized an advertising boycott of Facebook in July to protest what they said was inattention to racial justice issues. The boycott came in the wake of public outrage over a video showing the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis police custody.


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