PRESS RELEASE

Advocacy Groups Release Open Letter Urging Facebook Oversight Board Members To Take A Stand

A broad coalition of civil rights, free press, environmental, and tech accountability groups has released an open letter to the U.S.-based members of the Facebook Oversight Board urging them to resign in protest unless they are empowered to swiftly address the platform’s facilitation of voter suppression and climate denialism.

The letter – which was drafted in response to recent developments revealing the magnitude and urgency of these problems – was signed by Accountable Tech, Center For American Progress Action Fund, Center for Popular Democracy, Climate Power 2020, Free Press, League of Conservation Voters, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Hispanic Media Coalition, and the Sierra Club.

The full letter is below.

July 20, 2020

TO: Evelyn Aswad, Jamal Greene, Pamela Karlan, Michael McConnell and John Samples

RE: Urgent content issues undermining our democracy

Distinguished Members of the Facebook Oversight Board,

We are writing to express concern about recent developments that underscore the severity of the threat Facebook poses to democracy and the brazenness of their disempowerment of the Oversight Board as a necessary check. We urge you to either demand the Board be given real authority to act now, or publicly step down.

On July 7, 2020, it was announced that the Oversight Board will not be operational until ‘“late Fall” –– the latest and clearest indication to date that Facebook has intentionally sidelined the Board until after the high-stakes 2020 elections. After repeatedly claiming the Board would be up and running by 2019, Facebook pushed the launch date back to early 2020, then to spring, then to summer, and now to late fall.

This news is especially alarming given the release of Facebook’s internal civil rights audit on July 8, which makes clear that the platform is actively facilitating voter suppression, magnifying rampant election disinformation, and seeding hate. Auditors were left “deeply concerned” and unable to understand “why Facebook has allowed misrepresentations of methods of voting that undermine Facebook’s protection and promotion of this crucial form of free expression.” And those concerns were clearly well-founded, as a July 16 ProPublica report found nearly half of all top-performing Facebook posts mentioning vote-by-mail since April have been false or misleading.

Moreover, the civil rights audit specifically notes that the Oversight Board’s narrowly crafted jurisdiction “makes it impossible” for the Board to meaningfully review election-related content. This deficiency, according to the Auditors, has the potential to “impact the very operation of our democratic process.” In turn, they advocate for far-reaching changes to that policy –– changes that would similarly fall outside of the Board’s purview. The same goes for the recently unearthed climate loophole that Facebook created to enable climate deniers to peddle dangerous lies under the guise of “opinion” and evade fact-checking.

These revelations arose the same week that Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg convened with – and roundly dismissed recommendations from – civil rights leaders. Those leaders painted their meeting as a Facebook public relations stunt. Taken together, it’s hard to see all of this as anything more than that.

We have no doubt that you were all well-intentioned in accepting this role. Indeed, your venerable records and integrity are precisely what Facebook recognized as valuable. But the unfortunate reality is that the Board has been delayed, defanged, and reduced to a talking point, while Facebook continues to profit off hate and undermine the health of our society and democracy.

As we enter an unprecedented election season – amid a global pandemic, an inflection point for racial justice, and a crisis of truth – we cannot accept Facebook’s toxic status quo, much less a toothless Oversight Board that lends it a false air of legitimacy.

Each of you were selected to serve on this Board because of your outspoken commitment to free expression, human rights, and democratic values. Now is the time to uphold those principles. We humbly ask that you refuse to be complicit in this Facebook charade –– that you demand sweeping and immediate changes, or walk away.

Signed,

Accountable Tech

Center For American Progress Action Fund

Center for Popular Democracy

Climate Power 2020

Free Press

League of Conservation Voters

NARAL Pro-Choice America

National Hispanic Media Coalition

Sierra Club

Indivisible

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