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Activists launch campaign to remove Zuckerberg from Facebook board

The Hill logo The Hill 2019-05-06 Emily Birnbaum
Mark Zuckerberg standing on a stage: Activists launch campaign to remove Zuckerberg from Facebook board © Getty Activists launch campaign to remove Zuckerberg from Facebook board

Two activist groups on Monday launched a campaign to oust CEO Mark Zuckerberg from Facebook's board of directors, arguing his "sweeping" control of the company presents a barrier to civil rights and privacy reform.

Digital civil rights group Color of Change and Majority Action, a corporate accountability organization, told the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that they will be urging Facebook shareholders to withhold their support for nominating Zuckerberg to the board.

The two groups argue that Facebook's corporate structure gives Zuckerberg "control without adequate checks," pointing out that he is CEO and holds 57.7 percent of voting rights in the company.

"Facebook's tiered governance structure is a threat to the civil rights of its Black users and to the financial interests of its shareholders," Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson said in a statement. "Lasting change to address the misinformation, discrimination, violent movements and data breaches that put users, especially Black users, at risk cannot subject to the whims of a single person."

The campaign's launch comes just weeks before a May 30 meeting, when shareholders will vote on whether Zuckerberg should be re-elected to the board of directors.

Color of Change and Majority Action will now begin approaching investors with their proposal.

"Facebook's insufficient response to cascading risks, including civil rights violations,

requires checking the sweeping control that Zuckerberg holds in his joint role of CEO and Chairman with 10-1 voting power," Color of Change said in a statement.

The groups are railing against a recent proxy statement in which Facebook's board opposed all shareholder proposals for "improved governance and reporting."

Recent reports have indicated that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) may hold Zuckerberg personally accountable for mishandling user privacy in what is expected to be a record settlement. The FTC may also create more mechanisms for privacy oversight, hitting the structure of Facebook as a company.

Color of Change's presentation for shareholders lays out the barrage of privacy and civil rights issues that have plagued the company over the past year, including the company's decision to pay teens for access to their data, its settlement over potentially discriminatory advertising and the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

The groups are also calling for shareholders to support proposals that would empower holders with equal voting power, adopt an independent chair and expand transparency around the company's "gender pay gap."

Last year, 35 percent of outside shareholders - including Vanguard, Facebook's largest shareholder - withheld votes from re-electing Zuckerberg.

But the activist groups face an uphill battle, as Zuckerberg has often garnered a significant amount of support within Facebook.

Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg last year agreed to publicly release a civil rights audit at the request of civil rights groups including Color of Change. The group sat down with Sandberg for a meeting after reports showed Sandberg knew about a public relations campaign that drew a connection between groups like Color of Change and Democratic mega-donor George Soros.

The group has been working to push Facebook on civil rights issues since 2015.

(Suggested: Facebook: Highs and lows of the social networking giant)

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