Technology & Science

Facebook takes down accounts tied to Roger Stone, others amid civil rights audit findings

Facebook on Wednesday said it has removed dozens of accounts linked to the hate group Proud Boys, to U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone and to employees of Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, among others.

100-page report found 'serious setbacks' marring progress on hate speech, misinformation and bias

Facebook on Wednesday said it has removed dozens of accounts linked to the hate group Proud Boys, to President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone and to employees of Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, among others. (Amr Alfiky/The Associated Press)

Facebook on Wednesday said it has removed dozens of accounts linked to the hate group Proud Boys, to U.S. President Donald Trump's longtime ally Roger Stone and to employees of Brazil's president, Jair Bolsonaro, among others.

A network tied to both Stone and the Proud Boys had fake accounts post about local politics in Florida, as well as Stone's books, websites and media appearances, Facebook said. Stone's own Facebook and Instagram accounts were also banned.

"Roger Stone's personal accounts and his branded assets will be coming down as part of this network," said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook's head of cybersecurity policy, in a call with reporters. "Because we saw them deeply enmeshed in the activities here."

Facebook said these accounts were most active from 2015 to 2017 and most have been dormant since.

Stone was sentenced to more than three years in prison in February after he was convicted of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election.

Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before Congress in July after two of his employees testified that he has politicized the department on behalf of Trump and allowed special treatment of Stone's case.

Roger Stone was sentenced to more than three years in prison after he was convicted of lying to Congress, tampering with a witness and obstructing the House investigation into whether the Trump campaign co-ordinated with Russia to tip the 2016 election. (Manuel Balce Ceneta/The Associated Press)

The Proud Boys were banned from Facebook and Instagram in 2018, but supporters of the organization have tried to get around the ban by creating new pages or accounts.

It's the third time in recent months that Facebook has announced the removal of accounts and pages linked to the group.

The accounts linked to Bolsonaro were removed for spreading misinformation, using fake identities and otherwise violating Facebook's rules.

Facebook said the accounts were linked to Brazil's Social Liberal Party, which Bolsonaro left last year after winning the 2018 presidential election, as well as to employees of the president, two of his sons, Sen. Flavio Bolsonaro and congressman Eduardo Bolsonaro, and two other lawmakers.

Brazil's justice is investigating the spread of false news in connection with Bolsonaro, which could affect him in the criminal and in the electoral arenas.

Facebook also removed fake accounts in Ukraine focused on stirring up domestic divisions, as well as a network of accounts originating in Canada and Ecuador and focused on El Salvador, Argentina, Uruguay, Venezuela, Ecuador and Chile.

Civil rights audit

Also on Wednesday, a two-year audit of Facebook's civil rights record found "serious setbacks" that have marred the social network's progress on matters such as hate speech, misinformation and bias.

Facebook hired the audit's leader, former American Civil Liberties Union executive Laura Murphy, in May 2018 to assess its performance on vital social issues.

Its 100-page report released Wednesday outlines a "seesaw of progress and setbacks" at the company on everything from bias in Facebook's algorithms to its content moderation, advertising practices and treatment of voter suppression.

The audit recommends that Facebook build a "civil rights infrastructure" into every aspect of the company, as well as a "stronger interpretation" of existing voter suppression policies and more concrete action on algorithmic bias.

Those suggestions are not binding, and there is no formal system in place to hold Facebook accountable for any of the audit's findings.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, left, and chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg met with civil rights leaders on Tuesday in an effort to convince critics that the company is doing everything it can to rid its service of hate, abuse and misinformation. (Mark Lennihan, Jose Luis Magana/The Associated Press)

"While the audit process has been meaningful and has led to some significant improvements in the platform, we have also watched the company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real-world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights," the audit report states.

Those include Facebook's decision to exempt politicians from fact-checking, even when U.S. President Donald Trump posted false information about voting by mail. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has cited a commitment to free speech as a reason for allowing such posts to remain on the platform, even though the company has rules in place against voter suppression it could have used to take down Trump's posts — or at least add warning labels to them.

Last month, Facebook announced it would begin labelling rule-breaking posts — even from politicians — going forward. But it is not clear if Trump's previous controversial posts would have gotten the alert.

The problem, critics have long said, is not so much about Facebook's rules as how it enforces them.

"When you elevate free expression as your highest value, other values take a back seat," Murphy told The Associated Press.

The politician exemption, she said, "elevates the speech of people who are already powerful and disadvantages people who are not."

More than 900 companies have joined an advertising boycott of Facebook to protest its handling of hate speech and misinformation.

WATCH | Canada's 5 big banks join anti-hate advertising boycott of Facebook:

Canada's 5 big banks join anti-hate advertising boycott of Facebook

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Scotiabank, RBC, CIBC, BMO and TD are joining an international advertising boycott of Facebook over concerns that the platform is complicit in promoting racism, violence and misinformation.    2:07

Civil rights leaders who met virtually with Zuckerberg and other Facebook leaders on Tuesday expressed skepticism that recommendations from the audit would ever be implemented, noting that past suggestions in previous reports had gone overlooked.

"What we get is recommendations that they end up not implementing," said Rashad Robinson, the executive director of Color for Change, one of several civil rights non-profits leading an organized boycott of Facebook advertising.

Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook's chief operating officer, said in a Facebook newsroom post that the company has a long way to go but is making progress.

"This audit has been a deep analysis of how we can strengthen and advance civil rights at every level of our company — but it is the beginning of the journey, not the end," she wrote.

"What has become increasingly clear is that we have a long way to go. As hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company."

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