Attorneys general urge Facebook to reduce harassment online

Attorneys general urge Facebook to reduce harassment online

Aug. 6 (UPI) — Nearly two dozen attorneys general have called on Facebook to implement reforms to stop the spread of hate, disinformation and discrimination through its online services, and urged it to provide more support for victims of harassment and intimidation.

In a letter Wednesday addressed to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of the social media behemoth, and Sheryl Sandberg, the company’s COO, the 20 states attorneys general said reports of hate crimes have “dramatically increased” in recent years and that behavior has spilled online.

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Among victims of online harassment, three-quarters reported they were targeted on Facebook, the attorneys general said, adding that much of that harassment is focused on characteristics protected by the civil rights laws.

The attorneys general added in the letter that when someone is harassed, Facebook offers little recourse to victims due to a lack of such services and other impediments barring them relief through civil lawsuits or criminal prosecution.

“The hate-filled messaging and disinformation we’re highlighting in this letter is typically aimed at individuals because of what they look like, where they come from, what gender identity they claim and what they believe,” Gurbir Grewal, the attorney general of New Jersey, said in a statement. “It is divisive and dehumanizing, and we are committed to combating it at every turn.”

The letter comes a month after the publication of a two-year civil rights audit of Facebook’s practices that found the company had failed to advance civil rights and refused to enforce its own policies against hate groups such as White supremacy organizations and other extremists.

“As one of the most visited websites in the world, Facebook has a duty to ensure its platform is not used to spread hate and false information,” Kwame Raoul, the attorney general of Illinois, said in a statement. “Facebook should take the necessary steps to protect its users and stop hate groups from using its platform to recruit new members and intimidate others.”

The attorneys general in the letter Wednesday urged Facebook to aggressively enforce its policies concerning hate speech and dangerous organizations, allow for third-party audits of hate content and expand policies limiting inflammatory advertisements that target minority groups.

“Hate sells on Facebook, and all too often the site is used to spread extremism and facilitate discrimination,” Rachel Wainer, director of New Jersey’s Divison on Civil Rights, said in a statement. “… It is long past due for Facebook to ensure that its platform promotes human dignity and civil rights, rather division, dehumanization and fear.”

For victims of hate on its services, they called on the company to offer live real-time assistance, make information about harassment and intimidation more readily available and strengthen filtering, reporting and blocking tools.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement to The Washington Post that the company shares the attorneys general’s goals.

“Hate speech is an issue across the Internet and we are working to make Facebook as safe as possible by investing billions to keep hate off our platform and fight misinformation,” Stone said.

The attorneys general said they hope to work with Facebook to clamp down on harassment and discrimination on its platform and that when such incidents due occur they are quickly and effectively dealt with.

“We urge Facebook to take these steps to better tackle hate in our society and address the interests of users who are victimized by others in the online community that Facebook has built,” they said in the letter.

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