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State attorneys general put more pressure on Facebook to remove hate speech

A group of 20 state attorneys general said they were concerned after hearing from victims and suggested Facebook offer live helplines.
Mark Zuckerberg; Sheryl Sandberg.
Mark Zuckerberg; Sheryl Sandberg.Getty Images

State attorneys general are asking Facebook to do much more to limit hate speech and help the victims of harassment, including by offering live assistance through something like a Facebook helpline.

In a letter to the tech company Wednesday, a group of 19 state attorneys general and the attorney general of Washington, D.C., said they were concerned after hearing from victims of hate and harassment that Facebook’s process for responding to rules violations was “slow, frustrating, and ineffective.”

“With the vast resources at your disposal, we believe there is much more that you can do to prevent the use of Facebook as a vehicle for misinformation and discrimination,” the officials wrote in the letter.

The letter adds to mounting pressure on Facebook over what kinds of posts it allows and whether it has been effective in enforcing its own rulebook when violations occur, especially in examples of racism or other types of hatred.

Facebook has taken a variety of steps in recent years to address hate speech and harassment on its platform, but that has done little to quell complaints from civil rights organizations, consumer watchdogs and some politicians. An advertiser boycott of Facebook and some other social media apps drew support in the past several weeks from high-profile corporate brands concerned about its practices including Starbucks, Volkswagen and Chipotle, though some advertisers have recently returned.

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Facebook's external pressure has been met by growing pressure from employees within the company who have also begun to express concern over the company's actions. Facebook management has repeatedly ignored and suppressed internal research showing racial bias in the way that the platform removes content, eight current and former employees told NBC News in an investigation last month.

The company has said it is taking numerous steps to limit the spread of hate speech and harassment, both of which violate Facebook’s rules for its services. Facebook commissioned an audit of its impact on civil rights, but outside advocates remain unconvinced of the company’s commitment.

Daniel Roberts, a Facebook spokesman, said the company shares the goal of state officials to ensure people feel safe on the internet and looks forward to continuing to work with them.

“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,” Roberts said in a statement.

The company did not immediately agree to any of seven recommendations from the state attorneys general, including the idea of offering real-time assistance to victims.

The state officials said that victims of intimidation and harassment “would benefit from more immediate access to Facebook employees who can offer prompt assistance,” including during instances of doxxing when someone’s personal information is spread or broadcast.

The recommendations also included speeding up the time it takes to remove hateful posts and further limiting advertisements that include inflammatory language against protected groups.