Democrats Demand Answers From Zuckerberg About Extremist Facebook Content

As Facebook stares down the barrel of a full-blown advertising crisis, its CEO Mark Zuckerberg has found himself facing renewed political pressure.

A letter to the social network's boss was sent today by three Democratic senators who expressed concerns about the platform's "lack of action to prevent white supremacist groups from using the platform as a recruitment and organizational tool."

Senators Mark Warner, Robert Menendez and Mazie Hirono suggested in the letter that Facebook is failing to address extremism as the U.S. continues to go through a "long-overdue examination of the systemic racism prevalent in our society."

"Americans of all races, ages, and backgrounds have bravely taken to the streets to demand equal justice for all," they wrote in the correspondence.

"While Facebook has attempted to publicly align itself with this movement, its failure to address the hate spreading on its platform reveals significant gaps between Facebook's professed commitment to racial justice and the company's...business interests."

It cited a Tech Transparency Project report that detailed how right-wing extremists were using Facebook to "plan a militant uprising in the United States in response to stay-at-home orders," and criticized Facebook's lack of enforcement.

"The groups experienced unchecked growth in the months leading up to the report and remained on Facebook at least as of early June," the senators complained.

As reported by Bloomberg, the trio has urged Facebook to explain how it is enforcing its policies against hate speech, incitement and white supremacy by July 10.

Pressure has mounted on Facebook executives this week after a campaign being led by several leading civil rights organizations—Stop Hate for Profit—resulted in a range of advertisers temporarily pausing spending on social media platforms.

The campaigners accused Facebook of helping to facilitate hate, misinformation and extremism, calling on U.S. businesses to halt their ads throughout July.

More than 200 brands have ceased advertising on Facebook, with some bigger names including Unilever, Starbucks, Adidas, Best Buy, Verizon and Coca-Cola.

The announcements caused Facebook's stock to plunge by more than eight percent last Friday, wiping approximately $56 billion off its total market share.

Facebook makes the majority of its money from paid ads, accounting for roughly 98 percent of its $70 billion annual revenue last year, The Guardian reported.

The website's Vice President for Public Affairs Nick Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister, told CNN last Sunday that the platform has "absolutely no incentive to tolerate hate speech" and said Facebook removes about three million of pieces of hate speech content every month globally. Ninety percent of this is taken down before anyone reports it, he said.

"We don't like it, users don't like it, advertisers... don't like it. We don't benefit from hate speech. We benefit from positive human connection, not hate," Clegg said.

A European Commission report published this week suggested Facebook was faster at responding to hate speech than rivals, including Twitter and YouTube.

Earlier this month, Facebook said it had purged hundreds of accounts linked to U.S. hate groups Proud Boys and American Guard, which had urged supporters to attend anti-racism protests taking place in the wake of the killing of George Floyd.

Last Wednesday, Zuckerberg was also criticized during a House joint committee hearing—held virtually—discussing how disinformation is "dividing the nation."

Hany Farid, a professor at UC Berkeley whose research is focused on digital forensics, image analysis and human perception, said in the hearing that Zuckerberg is "hiding the fact" he knows that "hate, lies and divisiveness are good for business."

As reported by Gizmodo, Farid said: "He's hiding the fact that content moderation is bad for business. And so he props up these phony arguments to hide behind."

"I think Mark Zuckerberg is hiding the fact that his entire business model, of maximizing engagement, to maximize advertising dollars, just stinks.

"When you are in the attention-grabbing, ad-driven business, your job is to keep people on the platform for as long as possible, and we know that hate, divisiveness, outrageous and conspiratorial drives business. He knows this and is profiting off the back of us as individuals... I think we should hold him accountable for that."

The hearing also heard from Brandi Collins-Dexter, the senior campaign director at civil rights advocacy organization Color of Change—which is one of the partners of the Stop Hate for Profit campaign that has led the recent advertising boycott.

"Facebook's position that they are not willing to remove certain things, what they are really saying is that addressing white nationalism, disinformation, and anti-Blackness simply doesn't rise to a level of urgency for them," she said. "The inaction perpetuates anti-Black racism and endangers the lives of many who use their platform."

Zuckerberg said last Friday that Facebook will now start to flag and label "newsworthy" content that is left on the website despite breaking its policies.

He wrote in a post: "I'm optimistic we can make progress on public health and racial justice while maintaining our democratic traditions around free expression and voting. I'm committed to making sure Facebook is a force for good on this journey."

The Facebook boss confirmed on his personal account that the social network was committing over $200 million to "support Black businesses and organizations."

Mark Zuckerberg
Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the House Financial Services Committee in the Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill October 23, 2019 in Washington, D.C. Chip Somodevilla/Getty