Features Spotlight

Online discrimination: A feedback to Facebook’s indifference

For the past decades, society has shifted to online platforms for faster communication and information reach. Social media platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to name a few, are easily available and accessible online that is why individuals use it for communication as well as a form of recreation; in fact, according to a 2019 report released by social media management platform Hootsuite, Filipinos are considered to be the world’s top social media users, spending more than four hours on social media daily. They also reported that there were 3.48 billion social media users in 2019 with Facebook dominating it with a share of over 2.71 billion users.

Serving as both a virtual and media platform, it is worth noting that back in 2018, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg quickly dismissed the notion that the site was a media company and added that they were technology-centered because its team was mainly composed of engineers who write codes. Being considered as a pure technology platform gives Facebook slighter leniency when it comes to legal matters as compared to being a media company because media outlets have greater liability for the content they publish. (Read: Zuckerberg tells Congress Facebook is not a media company: ‘I consider us to be a technology company’

Recently, Facebook has been criticized for acting indifferently towards the surge of hate and white supremacist content posted on its platform since George Floyd’s death. For years, different civil rights groups have been reportedly alarming Zuckerberg of racist and bigoted content, but not much development has been seen since then. Last November 5, 2019, Zuckerberg received a letter from the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law (LCCRUL) condemning his decision to allow political ads that may contain false information for the sake of freedom of speech. Kristen Clarke, LCCRUL president and executive director, told Zuckerberg that his ”decision to allow unchecked false statements by politicians will increase voter and census disinformation campaigns and increase activity exposing Africans Americans and other people of color to harm.” (Read: Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg warned of potential criminal liability by top civil rights lawyers in scathing letter

Various civil rights groups such as the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), Sleeping Giants, Color of Change, Free Press and Common Sense, sparked the #StopHateForProfit campaign wherein major companies pulled out their advertising payments for the month of July. The movement was launched because these groups perceived the apathy of Facebook towards hate content made against protesters fighting for racial justice in America. With this in mind, the campaign is calling for businesses to “Hit Pause on Hate” by boycotting Facebook to affect their revenue; as described in the Stop Hate for Profit website, 99% of Facebook’s $70 billion revenue comes from advertising. Companies that agreed to the ad pull-out include The North Face, Starbucks, Adidas, Coca-Cola, and Microsoft. Adidas stated, “Racist, discriminatory and hateful online content has no place in our brand or in society.” These civil rights groups call for a safe space where users who face harassment can directly communicate with an employee who can assess the situation, an internal mechanism for removing ads who spread misinformation and a system that flags content.

Zuckerberg has agreed to meet with the #StopHateForProfit promoters but it seems like the CEO could not care less, after a report from The Information — an online publication based in San Francisco, California — quoted him saying, “We’re not gonna change our policies or approach on anything because of a threat to a small percent of our revenue, or to any percent of our revenue.”

Rotten System

Taking a trip down memory lane, in 2018, Facebook was castigated for the Cambridge Analytica (CA) scandal wherein personal data of almost 87 million users were inappropriately harvested. Cambridge Analytica was a British political consulting firm allegedly hired by United States President Donald Trump during the 2016 presidential elections. It was reported that in 2014, a specific Facebook quiz, designed to find out personality types, illegally gathered the data of its takers as well as public data from people on their friends’ list. Some of the data was claimed to be sold to CA which was then used to psychologically profile voters in the US. (Read: What is Cambridge Analytica? A timeline of the Facebook controversy

However, CA has denied all allegations that they violated laws and stated that they did not use such data for the presidential campaign. Facebook was then fined 5 billion dollars by the Federal Trade Commission for data security breaches.

Facebook is also credited for amplifying President Trump’s political campaign. Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook executive, said that Trump won because he ran the best digital ad campaign during the election period. (Read: Facebook ad campaign helped Donald Trump win election, claims executive

In addition, Facebook does not fact-check political advertisements because they think that citizens need to directly see statements coming from politicians. Recently, Zuckerberg strengthened his decision to act indifferent towards Trump’s assertive posts concerning police violence: one post included the controversial statement “when the looting starts, the shooting starts.” Zuckerberg also stated that Facebook is not an “arbiter of truth” and that world leaders have the freedom to post online since it is within bounds of public interest and news headlines. (Read: Zuckerberg: Facebook, Twitter should not fact-check political speech)

Hundreds of Facebook employees conducted an online walkout movement to express dissent towards the company’s twisted and selective principles regarding freedom of speech.

Timothy Aveni, a former Facebook software engineer said: “Today, I submitted my resignation to Facebook. I cannot stand by Facebook’s continued refusal to act on the president’s bigoted messages aimed at radicalizing the American public. I’m scared for my country, and I’m watching my company do nothing to challenge the increasingly dangerous status quo.” 

Virtual Negligence

Facebook was also questioned for apparently deleting #JunkTerrorBill posts made by  Filipino users, criticizing how the Anti-Terror Act of 2020 was railroaded in both the Senate and Congress and eventually signed into law; the social media site labeled these posts as “spam” and were allegedly ‘against community standards.’ Links and petitions denouncing the said law because of its dangerous implications were also taken down. Facebook, however, said that there was an error with their automated system and that they already restored posts that were incorrectly deleted. These incidents prompted Facebook users to voice out their experiences on Twitter, another leading social media platform.

It is worth noting that on April 9, Twitter banned accounts that were defending the government’s pandemic response. (Read: Twitter suspends accounts defending Duterte’s pandemic response); twitter stated that the accounts violated policies against platform manipulation and spamming such as posting identical content in multiple accounts and sending large amounts of replies and mentions. Regulating content at a time when misinformation is rampant serves as a stepping stone to correct influential people and regular citizens who could be victimized by misleading statements — which vastly shape public opinion. However, social media users should also exercise regular fact-checking to avoid bogus posts and to prevent further dissemination.

Last June 6, several duplicate accounts on Facebook bearing the name of students from Cebu schools were reported. (Read: Tug-ani – ALERT: Dozens of empty duplicate accounts…); not long after, fake accounts of different individuals across the country also surfaced the internet. The Cebu 8, seven activists and an oblivious passerby who were arrested from the University of the Philippines Cebu on June 5, spotted 30 to 40 dummy accounts under their names; there were even reports of these fake accounts threatening the original bearers of its identity. 

Facebook responded by saying that they are investigating the reports regarding suspicious activity and are already taking action on accounts that violate their policies.

In the first quarter of 2020, the social media giant deleted 1.7 billion fake accounts globally. This number signifies Facebook’s incapability to filter and authenticate the creation of accounts endangering the lives of its users. The government should investigate these cases and make Facebook accountable for placing the country’s citizens at risk of unsolicited cyber attacks.

Facebook serves as a primary news portal for some, signifying its importance to the masses. The wide reach of information is essential, however, may also be deleterious if not regulated. The emergence of pseudo-news-bearing-pages pave the way for facts to be easily twisted as unsuspecting readers may regard it as legitimate — making them vulnerable to trusting hoaxes or disinformation they read online.

As a de facto media platform, Facebook carries the burden of responsibility in protecting individuals from harassment and all forms of oppression. While social media platforms should serve as a haven for discussion, ensuring and preserving the welfare of its users — including data privacy rights — is of utmost priority as cyber threats are just as grave as physical attacks. Facebook has yet to clarify their vast definition of “freedom of speech” and its extent as it may contradict the platforms’ objective to serve as a primary communication outlet causing the security of millions of people to be compromised. 
In line with Facebook’s increasing blunders, users should also denounce the network’s countless evasion from social responsibility and its disregard for social contract. Small and medium businesses that utilize Facebook’s features should gradually minimize transactions and, if possible, try transferring to other social media platforms or local news pages in advertising and promoting their products or services. Interactions and frequent posts from users, which boost the network’s popularity, should also be reduced as much as possible. Lawmakers should keep up with the times and intensify data privacy policies to better implicate Facebook in their offenses and to abolish their cunning tactics. By doing so, Facebook’s capacity in amplifying unsought agenda is decreased and transparency is strengthened. Society should also make Facebook accountable for turning a blind eye on matters that involve the security of its users; this is to manifest that the masses call for a safer platform and will not continue to stand by when abuse is condoned. [P]

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