Top Civil Rights Groups Call For “Immediate Steps” From Facebook To Rebuild Faith Among Its Black Employees And Users

Color of Change and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights wrote a scathing joint letter to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg.

The nation’s largest civil and human rights coalition has joined with online civil rights group Color of Change in its effort to force Facebook to address a range of civil rights issues, demanding in a joint letter that the company radically increases transparency in an ongoing investigation into the social network’s policies, practices, and culture affecting the rights of black Americans in and outside of the company.

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg will meet with Color of Change Thursday on the social network’s Menlo Park, California, campus, representatives of the group told BuzzFeed News, adding that Zuckerberg is not expected to be in attendance. The group's president, Rashad Robinson and senior directors Arisha Hatch and Brandi Collins-Dexter are expected to ask for a clear timeline for results of the investigation that Facebook agreed to in May this year.

The letter, which was shared with BuzzFeed News before Thursday’s meeting, is addressed to Zuckerberg and Sandberg and signed by Robinson of Color of Change and Vanita Gupta of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. It comes just one day after a black former employee, Mark S. Luckie, said in a post on the platform that Facebook was “failing its black employees and its users.” Luckie told BuzzFeed News in a series of direct messages that he supported Color of Change’s efforts to hold Facebook accountable because too often Facebook gets away only with paying only lip service to issues concerning its black users and employees.

“I wrote it to bring light to the issues that many black employees are discussing among themselves but fear retribution in speaking publicly,” said Luckie. “I didn't want to be another employee who left the company because of these issues and didn't say anything.”

In the letter, Color of Change and the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights said that “together we urge you to take immediate steps to build public faith in Facebook — faith that is further eroded every day as we learn more about how the company has undermined our democracy and civil society.”

The New York Times recently detailed Facebook's efforts to hire a controversial firm founded by conservatives to target prominent critics of the company, including Color of Change. After the report was published, Facebook announced that it was ending its relationship with the firm, but representatives of Color of Change are demanding Facebook release its findings.

Color of Change contends that the social network has put its “enormous corporate thumb on the scale” to delegitimize civil rights issues as merely partisan fighting, and exhorts Facebook to respect the fundamental dignity and equality of all people.

“As a company whose public mission is to ‘give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together,’ Facebook has a responsibility to ensure that the platform is not used to drive bigotry and stoke racial or religious resentment and violence,” reads the letter. “But for years, Facebook’s refusal to acknowledge and/or chronic mismanagement of civil and human rights violations occurring on the platform have raised many questions about Facebook — primarily, whether you are willing or able to fix the toxic online environment that you have allowed to flourish.”

The groups also accuse Facebook — in its course correction on voter suppression — of focusing on unfounded instances of voter fraud.

“Our worst fears about this false dichotomy that you have implemented were realized when, after finally acknowledging massive voter suppression efforts on Facebook, you paired voter suppression trainings for employees with a training on so-called voter fraud—a false conspiracy theory that has been used to justify barriers to voters of color.”

The letter is Color of Change's latest in a series of fraught and increasingly intense communications with the social network. In 2015, Color of Change challenged Facebook to step up protections for black activists who were being doxxed by far-right white supremacist groups. The following year, Color of Change questioned why Facebook complied with law enforcement's request to take down the live broadcast of an hours-long police standoff that ended in the death of 23-year-old Korryn Gaines. Facebook met with Color of Change in November 2017 to specifically discuss its demands and a potential civil rights audit, which the company agreed to in May. Color of Change is now asking for a timeline of the release of the audit, as it’s unclear where it stands.

Robinson also wrote in a recent op-ed that Facebook willingly engaged in a “thinly veiled version of a more sinister, increasingly pervasive” anti-Semitic plot that a Jewish agenda is trying to take over America, by trying to link mega-donor George Soros to the company’s critics.

“The idea that my organization, for instance, is focused on what Soros is giving us, rather than on what conservatives are trying to take a laughable distraction. But the idea that my organization is a pawn in someone else's game, rather than the self-determined and black-led force that we are, is dangerously undermining.”

Color of Change has already called for:

  • The firing of Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy, and PR firms that Color of Change says used to discredit them.
  • Facebook to release its opposition research on the group to learn the scope of what Facebook knows and how the company had attempted to “undermine” Color of Change’s activism.
  • Facebook to release data on how it reports voter suppression and manipulation. Color of Change has recommended that if Facebook doesn’t release its findings that House Democrats subpoena the documents.
  • That Facebook commit to a timeline for public release of the civil rights audit, including “meaningful steps to address the harms raised.”

Collins-Dexter told BuzzFeed News that her group and Facebook had engaged in a collegial back-and-forth before the Times report. “We were not expecting that this article was going to drop. So to find out that while we had been engaged in that process that they had been undermining us at every turn was really disturbing.”

Collins-Dexter said she was cautiously optimistic about the audit, particularly around a newer set of parameters that would help ensure its integrity.

“But we’re quickly losing faith that anything short of congressional, regulatory, or shareholder interventions will really get the job done at the end of the day.”

Facebook did not immediately respond to an email message seeking comment.

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