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Unchecked power endangers rights

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With an image of himself on a screen in the background, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on October 23, 2019. — Common Dreams/Getty Images/Chip Somodevilla

If Mark Zuckerberg truly believes in giving everyone a voice, the company must integrate a power, race, and social analysis into its policies and their enforcement, write Gaurav Laroia and Carmen Scurato

WHETHER by accident or design, Facebook’s massive scale and reach have made the online platform part of the world’s social fabric. But behind its network of 2.6-billion regular users lurk algorithms specifically created to amplify divisive content and drive people apart.

Add to that mix a lax enforcement of Facebook’s own Community Standards and you have a toxic recipe for spreading hate speech, disinformation, and propaganda.

Facebook has allowed itself to become a tool for white supremacists and other hate groups to recruit others to join violent and hateful causes, bleeding odious and dangerous ideologies from the internet into the real world.

As the House Committee on the Judiciary prepares to grill the CEOs of Alphabet (the parent company of Google), Amazon, Apple, and Facebook on antitrust issues today, members of Congress need to examine how Facebook’s influence, reach, and power have undermined our democracy.

By prioritising profits and growth over every other social value, executives at Facebook have treated real-world harms and violence as nothing more than PR problems that must be managed.

A prime example is when the UN found that Facebook played a ‘determining role in the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. The company’s response? A blog post that promised to do a better job next time. In the words of Roger McNamee — a Facebook critic who was an early investor and adviser to the company — Facebook has repeatedly shown a ‘cultural indifference’ to the consequences of its harms.

In that same vein, Facebook’s civil-rights audit, completed earlier this month, noted how the company has repeatedly made ‘devastating errors’ in its moderation and enforcement against hateful content. The report juxtaposes recommendations from civil-rights groups designed to protect marginalised communities with Facebook’s decisions to undercut its own policies in favor of the interests of powerful politicians.

The Stop Hate For Profit campaign has led to nearly 2,000 companies pausing advertising on Facebook and Instagram to try and force Zuckerberg to put words into action. Media Matters reports that nine additional companies — including Walmart, Facebook’s second-biggest advertiser in 2019 — quietly paused advertising in July. Just these nine accounted for $335 million of Facebook’s advertising revenue in 2019.

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