Posted on May 18, 2018

Facebook Should Not Be a Meeting Ground for America’s Most Racist

Derrick Johnson, The Hill, May 18, 2018

{snip} Racial tensions in this country have crept so high in recent years that, similar to what occurred at the height of the civil rights movement, Russians have utilized this flaw to sow discord and division in our nation. Facebook is their weapon of choice.


Last week, Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee published roughly 3,500 Facebook ads sponsored by Russians, more than half of which made express references to race. The ads varied in nature, some leaning to the left and others to the right of the political spectrum. Many of these racial references reinforced harmful stereotypes about people of color. Designed solely to stoke animosity between groups, the ads portrayed African Americans as violent. They implied that Muslims were terrorists, and that immigrants were invaders.

And, as though to add salt to another bleeding wound, some ads focused on how badly the police treat African Americans, while others encouraged blind support of law enforcement.

No matter how far right or left the ads leaned, it was clear their main focus was to exploit implicit and explicit biases in the hearts of so many Americans. {snip}

The list can go on and on, but the point remains the same — Americans have made a terrible habit of acting on bias, and Facebook is a breeding ground that too often fosters its growth.

On any given day, Facebook is flooded with copious amounts of hate speech, much of it directed at people of color. In fact, in 2016, when these Russian ads ran on Facebook, hate groups and hate speech on social media platforms amassed more likes than any year since 2008. These hate groups thrive on Twitter, where an anti-immigrant group will garner about 17,000 followers, on average. {snip}

Any like, re-share or comment given to hate speech boosts its engagement, making it more likely for people to see and agree with. What’s worse, Facebook allows harmful and offensive speech to flourish but incorrectly flags other forms of expression as unsafe. {snip}

While today’s technology does not allow Facebook to block hate speech as expeditiously as it should, the tech giant can do more to release the burden of reporting hate speech from its users and devote more personnel resources to dousing hate groups and hateful content. This includes being mindful of ads Facebook allows on its network. {snip}

Facebook already imposes restrictions on what people can say on its network, some of which need tightening; it should impose even stricter limitations on advertising to ensure its users aren’t attacked based on race, gender, religion, ethnicity or sexual orientation. If Facebook’s primary goal is to connect people across the world, it must ensure that those connections are positive.

[Editor’s Note: Derrick Johnson is the president and CEO of the NAACP.]