The NAACP is calling on Facebook users to take part in a one-day boycott of the social network this Tuesday to pressure the company to do more against disinformation and racial discrimination. Separately, a coalition of about three dozen social justice groups called on Facebook to remove key executives from its board of directors.
Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg responded to the NAACP’s criticism Tuesday morning by giving an update on the company’s civil rights audit, writing in a blog post that Facebook was “committed to working with leading US civil rights organizations to strengthen and advance civil rights on our service. They’ve raised a number of important concerns, and I’m grateful for their candor and guidance.” Sandberg did not address calls for her to step down from Facebook’s board.
The latest backlash comes after the release of two new report on Russian disinformation campaigns leading up to the 2016 election. One of these reports, issued by New Knowledge for the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, revealed that Russia-linked efforts specifically targeted African-Americans to undermine movements like Black Lives Matter, and encourage their followers to boycott the election – effectively using disinformation as a means for voter suppression.
“The utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible,” the NAACP declared in a statement released Monday. The group, which has half a million members, called on Congress to further investigate Facebook and its role in voter suppression.
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To increase pressure on the social network, it also asked Facebook’s users to log out of the main Facebook app as well as Instagram and Whatsapp throughout Tuesday. The group said that it returned a donation it had previously received from Facebook.
Separately, a coalition of civil rights groups headed by Muslim Advocates called on Facebook Tuesday to remove CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Sandberg from the company’s board to increase oversight. The coalition, which includes groups like the Center for Media Justice, MoveOn and the Southern Poverty Law Center, also said that Facebook should remove its head of public policy Joel Kaplan from his position.
Kaplan used to be deputy chief of staff for president George W. Bush. He joined Facebook’s staff in 2011, and became the company’s vice president of global public policy in 2014. He is seen as key to Facebook’s efforts to navigate Washington, and appease conservative lawmakers who have criticized the company for a perceived anti-conservative bias.
In October, Kaplan ignited controversy by attending the confirmation hearing for Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh, who Kaplan has called a personal friend. During the hearing, Kaplan was seated visibly behind Kavanaugh, which upset many within the company. Kaplan apologized to Facebook’s staff, but went on to host a victory celebration for Kavanaugh following the judge’s Senate confirmation.
“Facebook’s platforms have become a primary organizing tool for white nationalists and hate groups throughout America and even contributing to genocide around the world and, all the while, the company’s leadership has either looked the other way or actively stoked it,” said Muslim Advocates executive director Farhana Kherain a statement. “For the good of vulnerable communities worldwide, Facebook’s board must become more independent, more diverse, and more capable of understanding the real challenges it faces.”
Facebook’s relationship with civil rights groups has become contentious after it was revealed that the company had hired a conservative opposition research group that tried to link Facebook critics to liberal billionaire George Soros, a frequent target of anti-semitic conspiracy theories. Facebook’s leadership initially denied knowledge about the incident, but the company later admitted that it had been researching Soros and his investments for some time.
Update: 9:00am PT: This post was updated with a statement from Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg.