Facebook Cannot Separate Itself From the Hate It Spreads
The social network doesn’t just ‘hold a mirror up to society’— it does something much more powerful and concerning
Imagine a factory that allowed anyone to bring toxic waste there, any time of day or night, and promised to store it. Imagine that in addition to storing the waste, the factory would exponentially increase the amount of toxic waste and enlist wide swaths of the population into adding their own pollution to the mix. Imagine that as part of its service, the factory would continually spew those toxins into our air, water, and soil, poisoning millions of people. Imagine then that the factory devoted some small degree of their services to cleaning up some of those toxins, well after much of the toxic waste had been distributed, and then asked to be congratulated for cleaning up 90% of the spills (according to its own unverifiable metrics). Lastly, at every opportunity, the factory would proudly proclaim that it doesn’t profit from distributing toxic waste.
If you can imagine this factory, you already have a wonderful grasp of the status of Facebook in 2020. When Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer, released a statement announcing that the company was going to make changes to address the issues of hate on its platform, she said the company had chosen to act “because it’s the right thing to do.” We’d be wise to take this statement with a grain of salt.
This latest promise to do better comes after massive and sustained pressure from activists and advertisers from the Stop Hate for Profit campaign, as well as a letter from three senators asking Facebook about its failure to eliminate white supremacy on the platform, and a pending independent audit from a civil rights law firm. Sandberg goes on to tout Facebook’s success in using artificial intelligence to detect hate speech, calling the platform a “pioneer” in the field. Yet, what she is really touting is the company’s efforts to remove content that it is responsible for amplifying in the first place. When Facebook met with civil rights leaders who had 10 specific recommendations to address hate on the platform, Facebook said it was already doing enough and refused to commit to any of them.