Real Facebook Oversight Members Respond to New Yorker Story:
Civil Rights, Racial Justice, Anti-Bias Voices Missing from Reporting
On behalf of five member organizations of the Real Facebook Oversight Board — ADL, Color of Change, Free Press, Muslim Advocates and Stop Online Violence Against Women — we are posting below a letter to the editor of The New Yorker submitted in response to their story, “Inside the Making of Facebook’s Supreme Court,” by Kate Klonick, published February 12th.
As the letter makes clear, these organizations were concerned by the erasure of anti-bias, racial justice and civil rights voices from The New Yorker’s reporting on the Oversight Board. We urge The New Yorker to push for more diverse sourcing and expert opinions in all reporting.
More importantly, we want to underscore the extent to which Facebook’s disastrous management of its own platforms — and now the Oversight Board’s role in that process — is fundamentally a civil rights, human rights and anti-bias issue. The absolute failure of Facebook to oversee its own content has unleashed bias, racism and even violence on a global scale.
No story is complete without reckoning with these truths. We hope The New Yorker will continue to report on this important subject, and will publish this letter to further the conversation.
Letter to the Editor of the New Yorker
Submitted February 17, 2021
To the Editor,
As leading experts on social media policy and advocates working to address the many civil rights, racial justice and human rights harms of Facebook content, we were pleased to see the New Yorker’s focus on the Facebook Oversight Board. (Inside the Making of Facebook’s Supreme Court, by Kate Klonick, 2/12/21) The article revealed critical details about the Oversight Board, and presented a number of important critiques of Facebook and its process.
One of the reasons that oversight is so desperately needed is the proliferation of hate, bigotry, racism, antisemitism, Islamophobia, xenophobia and disinformation on Facebook’s platforms. These concerns have sparked years of activism from racial, ethnic and social justice organizations, and prompted a major campaign last summer — Stop Hate for Profit — which led an advertising boycott of Facebook, and resulted in some real, if insufficient, changes.
It was distressing, then, to see that the story excluded virtually any voices of outside critics from civil rights organizations and anti-bias organizations, or human rights leaders and advocates of color in the nearly 7,000 word piece, and thus omitted or marginalized many valid concerns.
The article details extensively the tension inside Facebook and the Oversight Board over the Black Lives Matter protests. But organizations like NAACP and Color Of Change that are so central to these debates — central enough that they met with Mark Zuckerberg himself — apparently didn’t even warrant an interview. The article reports on the Oversight Board’s rulings on religious persecution, but didn’t include any input from human rights organizations or anyone impacted by the rulings.
The story has a paragraph-long “Critics of the board believe” rejoinder, but even that criticism leans entirely on white law professors for expertise. Their critiques are important, but incomplete. One of our organizations, Free Press, is quoted, but its’ wider, substantive concerns about the Oversight Board were not included.
Had we been asked, we would have told New Yorker readers that we believe the Oversight Board is a PR vehicle for Facebook, not an authentic attempt at accountability. It is certainly not independent. And we would have told your readers that the need for oversight is not an academic experiment or an intellectual exercise — it is life or death for our constituencies, who have been killed, trampled, imprisoned, maligned and misled because of Facebook’s content. And that the limits on the Oversight Board’s remit hinder its action on many unaddressed problems, including Facebook’s policies and its poor record of enforcement.
Several of us have met with Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg. It didn’t go well. We know what it’s like to be dismissed and erased. To see that happen in what may be the definitive story about the Facebook Oversight Board is alarming, and something the New Yorker should reckon with in its reporting in the future.
Jonathan Greenblatt, CEO, ADL
Rashad Robinson, President, Color of Change
Jessica J. González, CEO, Free Press
Farhana Khera, Executive Director, Muslim Advocates
Shireen Mitchell, Founder, Stop Online Violence Against Women, Inc.