Facebook Accused of Empowering Extremists

John Lister's picture

Two years ago Facebook commissioned an audit on its effect on civil rights. The results are in, and they don't make for pretty reading.

The report makes a series of suggestions for Facebook to change its policies, but the company says it won't implement all of them.

Arguably the most damaging conclusion in the report is that Facebook isn't just hosting extremist views and hatred, but that its very setup may actually be encouraging and boosting such material. The biggest criticism is that Facebook's own algorithms may have pushed users towards "self-reinforcing echo chambers of extremism."

The audit was commissioned following Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg's appearance before Congress. It's 100-page report, produced by external lawyers, comes as Facebook is dealing with a boycott by advertisers over its practices.

Commitment in Question

The report does have several areas of praise. In particular, it notes Facebook's steps to tackle misleading content that's designed to deter people from being on the census or registering to vote.

However, it describes some of Facebook's policy decisions to be "vexing and heartbreaking" and questions whether it has a "full-throated commitment" to dealing with problems. (Source: wsj.com)

The report argues that Facebook isn't pro-active enough on political hate speech, instead relying on moderation after content is already published and shared online. The report suggests Facebook has failed to remove posts by politicians that clearly violate its own policies.

Algorithms Promote Division

The report also accused Facebook of not properly examining whether its own algorithms make things worse. One theory is that, when choosing which posts to show users first, it prioritizes those which have attracted a lot of comments. Those tend to be more extreme and controversial posts, creating a vicious cycle.

Facebook has already decided to set up an independent external "oversight board" which has the power not only to determine the rules on acceptable content, but to overrule decisions Facebook has made itself.

However, it's now said this won't be starting until "late Fall." That's sparked some conspiracy theories that it doesn't want to be arguing about content rules in the run-up to this year's US elections. (Source: bbc.co.uk)

What's Your Opinion?

Do you agree with the report's arguments? Does Facebook do enough to balance free speech and combating extremism? Does it have a responsibility to do either of these things, or should it be allowed to make its own rules on content?

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Dennis Faas's picture

Speaking for myself, I can only take so much of Facebook in one sitting and only do so when I'm trying to kill time waiting for something else (at a doctor's office, for example).

Facebook is full of nauseating politics and plenty of fake news that gets recirculated without any fact-checking. The latter promotes spewing of extreme and/or hateful comments - similar to an online witch hunt with no purpose.

In between that, I see sprinkles of truth and "this is what I'm doing now" from friends - the stuff that I would prefer to see. This of course isn't as engaging, so I assume that's why it's not prominent as the most of the verbal diarrhea.

kitekrazy's picture

FB is great at censoring and removing conservative media. Now it's trying to act like a victim. My account is only with like minded people and no opposing views. The less time on FB the better life is.

When you think about it FB is just a large version of the Jerry Springer Show,

russoule's picture

as I see it, the Karens are about to force Facebook to adhere to a "liberal" slant rahter than offer free conversation capabilities.

just the thought of the "The report argues that Facebook isn't pro-active enough on political hate speech," statement tells me that the report is going to be used to "protect" the latest "down-trodden" segment of society from those who would try to use logic and/or facts to state their position which might be in opposition to the "PC of the day".

leave Facebook alone and if there isn't enough public support, it will go down in flames. how hard is it to let the public decide via usage whether a thought or service or product is alright? why are there so many Karens out there trying to tell the rest of us what we should think, do, say, believe, support etc.? the USA is supposed to be a country of "FREEDOM OF SPEECH" before everything else.

mazaprin's picture

First of all, let me remind you that Facebook is a public socializing website where you give your personal info, speak your mind and criticize anybody at your own risk. Now... there is one thing called "Free Expression" and I understand that the owner of Facebook is saying that he will not prevent anybody from posting his mind or ideology, etc... as long as they are not indecent or criminal conduct, etc... Everybody has the right to post their views even fascists, communists, Arians, Black Power, whatever (these are only words) and it is your choice whether to view them or not the same way the TV channels give you the choice to change the channel if you don't like or it offends you what is shown on one.

Saying all that, I don't know what so much fuzz about it if the owner of Facebook denies the fascists, communists, Black Lives Matter and other questionable points of view then he will be discriminating them and violating their right to free expression on a public website.

I don't condone fascism nor communism nor Arians and the like, I am not a racist but I think everybody has the right to speak their mind even if you are not in accordance with it so make yourselves a favor and don't go looking for these Facebook pages and better spend your time socializing with your friends.