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Democratic Senators Ask Zuckerberg to Act on White Supremacy

Bloomberg logo Bloomberg 5 days ago Steven T. Dennis and Ben Brody
Mark Zuckerberg wearing a suit and tie: Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Zuckerberg struggled to convince Congress of the merits of the company's plans for a cryptocurrency in light of all the other challenges the company has failed to solve. © Bloomberg Mark Zuckerberg, chief executive officer and founder of Facebook Inc., listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Oct. 23, 2019. Zuckerberg struggled to convince Congress of the merits of the company's plans for a cryptocurrency in light of all the other challenges the company has failed to solve.

(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg faces demands from Senate Democrats for answers about hate groups on the platform at the same time a growing number of companies are pulling advertising from its sites over harmful content.

In a letter to Zuckerberg Tuesday, three Democratic senators question what they call the company’s “lack of action to prevent white supremacist groups from using the platform as a recruitment and organizational tool” despite Facebook’s stated policies on hate speech.

Senators Mark Warner of Virginia, the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, Robert Menendez of New Jersey, the ranking member of Foreign Relations, and Mazie Hirono of Hawaii wrote that the nation is undergoing a long-overdue examination of systemic racism in society but suggested Facebook is failing to do its part.

“While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook’s professed commitment to racial justice and the company’s actions and business interests,” they wrote.

The senators want Facebook to detail by July 10 whether and how the company will enforce its policies against hate speech, violence, incitement and white supremacy and who at the company is responsible for doing so.

Earlier: Facebook Sales at Risk as Starbucks Bails, GM Plans Review

And they raised a question about whether the government should continue to grant platforms such as Facebook protections against lawsuits.

“When violent extremist groups actively and openly use a platform’s tools to coordinate violence, should federal law continue to protect the platform from civil liability for its role in facilitating that activity?” they asked.

As protests spread nationwide over racial injustice, consumer giants including Starbucks Corp., Unilever, Coca-Cola Co. and others have pulled back on ad spending on Facebook over hate speech and misinformation. Facebook’s stock is about 8% below a record close hit earlier this month, though it has risen more than 50% off a March low. Most of the boycott-related weakness was concentrated on Friday, when shares fell more than 8%.

“We do not profit from hate, and we have no incentive to have hate on our platform,” Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president for global affairs, told Bloomberg TV on Monday. “We don’t like it. Crucially, our users don’t like it.”

He said that most content on Facebook is positive and that the company is making strides in efforts to decrease “the small minority of hateful content that we want to get rid of just as much as anybody else.”

A Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, added that, in the last quarter, the company said it identified 89% of hate speech and action before it was reported.

Read More: Facebook Defends Policies on Hate Speech Amid Ad Pullback

But the Democratic senators cited a study by the Tech Transparency Project, a part of the political watchdog group Campaign for Accountability, detailing the ways extremists were using Facebook to plan a military uprising in response to stay-at-home orders during the coronavirus pandemic and the discovery of 125 far-right extremist groups of the “boogaloo” movement.

Discussing Flame-Throwers

“Many of the groups’ posts were explicit in their calls for violence, including discussions of ‘tactical strategies, combat medicine, and various types of weapons, including how to develop explosives and the merits of using flame-throwers,” the senators said.

Facebook announced in a blog post later Tuesday that it was banning violent “boogaloo” accounts and deleting them from its platforms. The company said it was removing 220 Facebook accounts, 28 Facebook pages, 95 Instagram accounts and 106 Facebook groups that were part of a boogaloo network. It also removed 400 additional groups and 100 pages that “hosted similar content as the violent network” but were not technically part of it, according to the post.

The senators cited the Tech Transparency Project’s report that Facebook often directed users via its “related pages” feature to other extremist content, helping to promote such sites.

“Facebook is hardly a passive actor in this context: a recent exposé by the Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook’s own researchers had found that ‘64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools,’” they said.

They also cited recent cases where violence or plans for violence played out first on Facebook.

“Unfortunately, the online radicalization facilitated by Facebook can lead to deadly consequences,” they said.

(Updates with company announcement of ban on violent ‘boogaloo’ accounts in 14th paragraph.)

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