TECH

Facebook Vows Crackdown On Census Misinformation After Calls From Civil Rights Groups

The social media giant said it would treat the census like an election, but not everyone is impressed with the changes.

Facebook is vowing to crack down on misinformation surrounding the 2020 census following calls from civil rights groups and the federal government for big tech to take action.

In an update released Sunday on its more than yearlong civil rights audit, the company said it would treat the count “with the same priority and focus as a high priority election,” as it shapes electoral representation and federal funding. 

In the fall of 2019, Facebook plans to roll out an anti-interference policy banning “misrepresentations of census requirements, methods, or logistics, and census-related misinformation.” It will also begin training employees to identify content that violates the rules.

In addition to human monitors, the platform said it will use “proactive detection technology” and algorithms to detect violations. Census experts will also offer help anticipating suppression tactics in advance.

Facebook faced widespread scrutiny in 2016 as misinformation and election meddling plagued the platform. That included 3,000 Russian ads and 80,000 posts designed to influence U.S. politics. 

And its myriad troubles have only continued since then, as Facebook has dragged its feet when it comes to consequences for bad actors.

In May, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called out Facebook after being targeted by a deceptively edited video attempting to make it appear as if she were drunkenly stumbling through a speech.

The platform’s refusal to remove the clip convinced her that the company “wittingly were accomplices and enablers of false information.” 

Responding to Facebook’s Sunday update, the Change the Terms Coalition, which comprises dozens of organizations focusing on human rights, civil rights, consumer protection and technology policy, said the changes weren’t significant.

Among the criticisms raised in a blog post by the coalition were insufficient transparency, and the company’s reluctance to take greater responsibility for the power of its platform.

“Facebook’s so-called audit is simply too heavy on platitudes and not comprehensive enough,” said the Southern Poverty Law Center’s Keegan Hankes, a member of the coalition. “We cannot move forward to protect targeted groups harmed by activity on the platform unless we have both an unvarnished look at the cesspools of hate and misinformation growing and spreading on Facebook with the company’s detailed plan for action to be taken on an urgent timeline, and this update provided the public with neither.”

However, in a statement within the audit, American Civil Liberties Union veteran Laura Murphy, who’s leading the report, contended it showed “meaningful progress on several issues and a concrete commitment to further improvement.” 

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