Facebook will ban ads which discourage people from voting during the 2020 US presidential elections. Announced as part of its second civil rights audit, bans against “Don’t Vote” ads will come into effect before the 2019 gubernatorial elections, which is scheduled for November. The Presidential elections will take place a year later in November 2020. Facebook’s civil rights audit began in 2018 in order to increase dialogue between the civil rights community and Facebook. The audit team has recommended changes and expansion of Facebook’s content moderation policies relating to hate speech, white nationalism, and events, among others. It also studied over- and under-implementation of the moderation policies. Also, Facebook has laid out (in not much detail) its policy against voter suppression and steps to protect the integrity of the US 2020 Census.

Recommendations on content moderation

In order to keep a check on the content being spread across the social media platform, the audit team has made suggestions to Facebook’s existing policies:

  • White Nationalism Policy: Announced in March 2019, the policy bans explicit praise, support, representation of white nationalism and white separatism on Facebook. Facebook also prohibited statement of white supremacy and similar organisations, and other hateful discriminatory content, but did not prohibit white nationalism or white separatism.
    Recommendation: Facebook should also prohibit content which expressly praises, supports, or represents white nationalist ideology even if it does not explicitly use the terms “white nationalism” or “white separatism”.
  • Events Policy: Facebook prohibits events where people intend to bring weapons to an event/location, with the stated intent to intimidate or harass certain vulnerable groups. Concerns were raised that Facebook was being used to organise armed gatherings outside places of worship of vulnerable groups.
    Recommendation: Facebook should continue to examine other ways that event pages may be abused to spread hate.
  • Designated Hate Figures Enforcement: Facebook’s “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” policy bans organisations or individuals when they hit certain hate or violence criteria.
    Recommendation: The audit team has found the policy to be both over-inclusive and under-inclusive and have also identified examples where users have circumvented those bans.

The audit team also conducted an analysis of Facebook’s hate speech and harassment, here are the recommendations:

  • Hate speech: Facebook defines hate speech to include attacks against people based on their national origin. The audit team has suggested a revision of this definition to include continents and regions larger than a single country, and to remove humour as an exception to hate speech.
  • Harassment: Facebook’s current bullying and harassment policy does not distinctly prohibit users from encouraging harassment of others. The team has suggested Facebook to prohibit harassment calls and campaigns organised using Facebook.
  • Bulk reporting or blocking: The audit team has recommended allowing bulk reporting of harassment via messages and posts, something which Facebook currently doesn’t allow
  • Protection for activists and journalists: The audit team has recommended Facebook to work with journalists and activists who get routinely targeted on the platform.

Facebook’s voter suppression policy

Facebook has changed its voter suppression policy in 2018 to include misrepresentation on how to vote; of voting logistics, methods, or requirements; about if a vote will be counted; and also any threats of violence relating to voting, voter registration, or the outcome of an election. Apart from banning “Don’t Vote” ads, Facebook is also working on other safety measures ahead of the 2020 US Presidential Elections:

  • Voter Interference Protections: Facebook will work on other forms of voter interference, apart from banning Don’t Vote ads, but it hasn’t specified anything yet. The company has already met with “external voting rights experts” in the United States and abroad.
  • Addressing Racial Appeals: Facebook has acknowledged that racial appeals have shown up on the platform, but has not given specific details on how it will deal with this.

Facebook’s plan for 2020 US Census

Facebook plans to launch a census interference policy in the fall of 2019 to prohibit misrepresentation about conduct, logistics, and also misinformation. It will also train employees and content moderators working on the census. It will also set up a team just for the Census, and partner with census protection groups.

Facebook’s civil rights accountability structure

Facebook has set up a civil rights task force which includes experts on content policy, AI fairness, and elections to meet every month. The task force will be led by COO Sheryl Sandberg, its tasks are:

  • Institutionalise the regular discussion of civil rights concerns and vulnerabilities on a systemic, cross-functional level;
  • Operate as an executive body for employees to take up civil rights questions
  • Ensure civil rights concerns raised by outside groups are raised before the decision-makers for quick action
  • Share the task force learnings across departments and verticals at the company;
  • Ensure that a centralised team is empowered to influence contemplated product or policy developments that raise civil rights concerns.