Facebook doesn't protect users' civil rights, says audit

Facebook has been criticised for its stance on free speech and wider civil rights in a self-commissioned audit into its policies and practices.

Facebook is facing criticism for its position on free speech and broader civil rights

Facebook is facing criticism for its position on free speech and broader civil rights Source: AAP

Facebook has not done enough to protect users from discrimination, falsehoods and incitement to violence, an external civil rights audit has found, which has put more pressure on the company in the midst of an advertiser boycott.

The audit report, which Facebook commissioned two years ago, has pointed to what the authors describe as a series of harmful decisions, including a "terrible precedent" not to intervene in posts in recent weeks by US President Donald Trump, which could allow the platform to be "weaponised to suppress voting".

The findings come at a time when about 900 advertisers, including major brands such as Coca-Cola, have joined a boycott promoted by major US civil rights groups including the Anti-Defamation League and the NAACP.

"Many in the civil rights community have become disheartened, frustrated and angry after years of engagement where they implored the company to do more to advance equality and fight discrimination, while also safeguarding free expression," the auditors write in the report released on Wednesday.

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 had not immediately indicated 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".

"Facebook stands firmly against hate," Ms Sandberg said.

"What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go," she said. 

The auditors said Facebook had been too willing to exempt politicians from its rules, letting some spread misinformation, harmful and divisive rhetoric and even calls to violence.

Facebook has taken a hands-off approach to political speech compared with rivals, notably leaving untouched posts by Mr Trump in recent weeks that were flagged by its rival Twitter for falsehoods and incitement of violence.

The US Chief Operating Officer at Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, has expanded the user base from 70 million to over 750 million today. (Getty)

Organisers of the advertising boycott met for more than an hour via video conference with Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg and Ms Sandberg on Tuesday.

After the meeting, activists said they saw "no commitment to action" from the company.

Published 9 July 2020 at 6:02am, updated 9 July 2020 at 12:44pm