Twenty state AGs press Facebook to do more to combat hate speech


Facebook should take specific steps to curb hate speech on its platform, state attorneys general say.

Angela Lang/CNET

Twenty state attorneys general demanded Facebook do more to combat hate speech, discrimination and disinformation on the social network, the latest group to weigh in on divisive content on the platform.

In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and COO Sheryl Sandberg on Wednesday, the AGs said they believed the company had “fallen short” on its civil rights record and urged the company to “aggressively enforce” its policies prohibiting hate speech and hate-based organizations. Other steps the AGs’ letter suggested Facebook take include allowing public, third-party audits of hate content and enforcement, as well as expanding its policies on limiting ads that disparage minorities.

“With the vast resources at your disposal, we believe there is much more that you can do to prevent the use of Facebook as a vehicle for misinformation and discrimination, and to prevent your users from being victimized by harassment and intimidation on your platforms,” the attorneys general wrote in the letter (PDF).

Facebook has also been criticized for how it enforces its rules against hate speech. Civil rights groups launched a campaign called Stop Hate for Profit that called on advertisers to pause spending on Facebook in July. The groups, which include the Anti-Defamation League, the NAACP and Color of Change, say Facebook has allowed content that could incite violence against protesters who are fighting for racial justice in the wake of the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade, Ahmaud Arbery and Rayshard Brooks.

More than 1,000 businesses joined the campaign, including major brands such as The North Face, an outdoor clothing maker; Unilever, a consumer goods giant; and Verizon, a telecommunications giant. Some of the businesses, which pledged to halt ad spending on Facebook for the month of July, also paused activity on Google-owned YouTube, Twitter and other social networks. 

“Hate speech is an issue across the internet and we are working to make Facebook as safe as possible by investing billions to keep hate off our platform and fight misinformation,” Facebook spokesman Daniel Roberts said in a statement. “We share the attorneys general’s goal of ensuring people feel safe on the internet and look forward to continuing our work with them.”

Facebook has faced criticism for not removing a protest-related post by President Donald Trump that advocacy groups and even the company’s own employees said could incite violence. However, Facebook determined the president’s controversial remark that “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” didn’t violate its rules.

Facebook has also come under for fire for not sending posts from politicians to fact-checkers. The company says users should be able to see what politicians say and that political speech is already heavily scrutinized.

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