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Facebook’s white supremacy policy is too narrow, say external auditors

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Last weekend, Facebook released its second Civil Rights Audit report, in which, company COO Sheryl Sandberg talks about dealing with white supremacist content on the platform, that broadly bans content that use the term ‘white nationalism’ or ‘white separatism’. But external auditors have found this policy “too narrow”.

According to external auditors, who were appointed by Facebook in 2018 to oversee its goals of “advancing civil rights on our platform”, Facebook’s overly narrow implementation of its own rules was hampering moderation.

“Facebook’s current white nationalism policy is too narrow, because it prohibits only explicit praise, support or representation of the terms ‘white nationalism’ or ‘white separatism’”, the report says. “The narrow scope of the policy leaves up content that expressly espouses white nationalist ideology without using the term ‘white nationalist’. As a result, content that would cause the same harm is permitted to remain on the platform.”

Members of the National Socialist Movement. Reuters

Till earlier this year, terms like ‘White nationalism’ and ‘white separatism’ were allowed on Facebook as the company only considered white “supremacy” breaching its hate speech policies.

However, in March 2019, Facebook updated its rules to ban the explicit praise, support or representation of the former two ideologies as well. The rule applies to both the core Facebook app and Instagram.

On the suggested narrow scope of the policy, The Guardian reported Sandberg as saying:

“We’re addressing this by identifying hate slogans and symbols connected to white nationalism and white separatism to better enforce our policy.

We also recently updated our policies so Facebook isn’t used to organise events that intimidate or harass people based on their race, religion or other parts of their identity. We now ban posts from people who intend to bring weapons anywhere to intimidate or harass others, or who encourage people to do the same. Civil rights leaders first flagged this trend to us, and it’s exactly the type of content our policies are meant to protect against.”

In the Civil Rights Audit report 2019, Facebook has also pledged to put its new “don’t vote” policy prohibition into effect ahead of the 2020 US elections. The new “don’t vote” policy is in its developmental stages and the company is seeking advice from voting organisations. Facebook said the policy is likely to only apply in the United States in its initial release and will not include the policing of organic posts from users.

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