The Technology 202: Here’s what Facebook ad boycott organizers plan to tell Mark Zuckerberg

with Tonya Riley

The Facebook advertising boycott organizers have Mark Zuckerberg’s attention.  

Anti-Defamation League chief executive Jonathan Greenblatt, NAACP chief executive Derrick Johnson and Color of Change President Rashad Robinson expect to meet with Zuckerberg and Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg as early as Monday, according to the ADL.

More than 530 companies — including top brands such as Ford, Unilever, Pfizer and many small businesses — have committed to pause advertising on the social network at least during the month of July as part of their #StopHateForProfit campaign, the organizers say. 

The organizers have 10 demands they’re planning to stress during the meeting with Facebook. They include convincing the company to hire a top executive with civil rights expertise to evaluate products and policies for discrimination, bias, and hate – and for Facebook to submit to independent audits of misinformation and hate speech on its platform. They also want Facebook to refund corporations when their advertisements appear next to hate speech and to remove groups focused on white supremacy, anti-Semitism or vaccine misinformation. 

The organizers say such demands should be easy to implement for a company of Facebook’s size and power. “They built a business that reaches 2.6 billion users across culture, across language, across geography,” Greenblatt said. “That’s difficult. That is a feat. Kicking white nationalists off the platform? That’s easy.”

The broad coalition of corporations raises the stakes in the civil rights’ leaders years-long push to change Facebook.  

It’s hardly the first time civil rights leaders have a seat at the table with two of the world’s most powerful tech executives — but they say many of those conversations did not result in enough changes. Now they’re encouraged by the backing of some of the world’s most recognizable corporations as they seek to force Facebook to remove content that could suppress voting or otherwise could harm marginalized groups. 

“We had to make sure that they weren’t just hearing from us, but that they were hearing from folks who every single day engaged in their platform as big-time customers,” Robinson told me. “If Mark Zuckerberg has said the demands of the civil rights leadership haven’t been important, does he say the same thing to corporations? And will corporations accept a person who feels he’s so powerful that he feels he doesn’t have to make any changes?”

The widespread protests in the wake of the police killing of George Floyd have put renewed pressure on corporations throughout the country to evaluate how their businesses and products perpetuate racism. 

“There’s a moment in time here, a kind of urgency and energy that this issue has needed that we’re finally now able to bring to bear,” Greenblatt told me.

So far the campaign has far exceeded the organizers’ expectations. 

It launched in mid June without any corporations signed on. The number of companies participating has snowballed in just the past two weeks following The North Face’s announcement last month that it would be the first company to participate. 

Still, as CNN has noted, many of the top advertisers on Facebook such as Walmart and American Express have not pulled their advertising. And hundreds of companies is only a fraction of the more than 7 million advertisers Facebook reported last year it has on its platform. 

Greenblatt said the organizers never expected to make a dent in Facebook’s profits. “The idea was to make a point about their practices,” Greenblatt said. “And in that we have succeeded.”

There are signs that the pressure could be working. 

Facebook announced last week that it would start labeling some posts from politicians that violate its community rules, after long giving elected world leaders an exemption from many of them because the company considers their content “newsworthy.” 

But civil rights leaders don’t think the company is going far enough, and they’re calling Facebook to stop giving politicians an exemption from any of the rules. 

In addition, Zuckerberg announced the company would remove false claims about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into Election Day, in response to concerns about misinformation that could suppress voting spreading on the platform. But the boycott leaders think Facebook should be more aggressive about taking down disinformation related to voting every day of the year. 

Facebook requested next week’s meeting with the civil rights leaders as the troubles pile up. “Last week, we reached out to the NAACP, ADL and Color of Change and offered a meeting with our COO and [Chief Product Officer Chris Cox] because they’ve made product-specific requests,” Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said in a statement. “They asked about having Mark at the meeting, and we’ve since confirmed that Mark is able to join. We’re waiting to hear back and look forward to the opportunity to continue the dialogue.”

Advertising boycotts in the past have been successful at forcing change at tech companies. Starbucks, Pepsi, Walmart and other major companies pulled advertising from YouTube in 2017 after the Wall Street Journal reported Google’s systems placed ads from major brands on videos peddling racist and anti-Semitic content. The company promised to do more to police such content on its service. And it made changes to its ad policies, including requiring that video channels on its site have more than 10,000 total views before placing ads on their videos.  

Facebook is on the defensive. 

Nick Clegg, Facebook’s vice president of global affairs and communications, argued in an op-ed yesterday that Facebook has an incentive to root out hate on its platform because many of its users and advertisers don’t want to see it. However with so many messages and posts circulating on Facebook each day, looking for this harmful content is “like looking for a needle in a haystack,” he wrote. 

“We may never be able to prevent hate from appearing on Facebook entirely, but we are getting better at stopping it all the time,” he wrote. 

Facebook has been increasingly investing in content moderation since the fallout of the voter interference on its platform during the 2016 election. The company says some of its initiatives already address the demands that the civil rights leaders have laid out. For instance, it says its safety professionals and artificial intelligence systems review private groups for hate speech, and it already does issue companies refunds when ads run in videos or in instant articles that are determined to violate its policies. 

But the civil rights leaders say the company’s response is just “a tired retread of the same talking points Facebook has been using for months.”

“We aren’t buying it, and neither are advertisers,” Greenblatt said. “The fact is, Facebook still has a serious problem with hate and harassment on their platform and is not taking it seriously enough. We look forward to addressing these issues in our meeting with Facebook executives next week.”

Our top tabs

Encryption advocates and tech firms are bracing for a fight over an anti-child pornography bill. 

The bipartisan bill, which is being debated by the Senate Judiciary Committee this morning, would remove tech firms’ protections against criminal penalties and civil lawsuits when their users share child pornography. Encryption advocates fear that will force companies to stop using the strongest form of encryption, as Joseph Marks explains

The bill’s sponsors, Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), released an updated version of the bill yesterday that reduces the chances for a nationwide requirement forcing companies to create encryption back doors for law enforcement. 

But it raises the chances that laws with those requirements could be passed at the state level, opponents note. “This new bill doesn’t fix the encryption concerns, it just shifts them to a different place,” said Nema Singh Guliani, senior legislative counsel at the American Civil Liberties Union.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore), a longtime encryption advocate, charged the updated bill “will do even less than the previous version to stop the spread of child sexual abuse materials” and “create massive uncertainty, both for strong encryption and free speech online.” 

Wyden has sponsored a separate bill that would invest $5 billion in combating child online child sexual exploitation but not weaken encryption. 

The CEOs of Amazon, Apple, Google and Facebook have all agreed to testify at a July antitrust hearing.  

Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who chairs the House Judiciary antitrust subcommittee that will oversee the hearing, confirmed the attendance of the tech heavyweights to the New York Times’s Kara Swisher

Of the four chief executives, Amazon’s Jeff Bezos is the only one to have never appeared before Congress. (Bezos owns The Washington Post.) 

Apple’s Tim Cook testified in front of the Senate in 2013, Google’s Sundar Pichai appeared in 2018, and Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg has made multiple appearances in recent years.

The hearing caps off a year-long investigation by the committee into anti-competitive practices by tech companies.  Previous hearings by the committee have focused on the impact of big tech companies on their competitors, data privacy implications and the efforts of agencies tasked with antitrust enforcement.

The inquiry coincides with probes by the Federal Trade Commission and Justice Department into potentially anti-competitive practices in the technology industry.

Nondisclosure agreements are preventing tech employees from coming out with allegations of discrimination.

Protocol’s Emily Birnbaum spoke with six current or former tech employees who feared retribution by their employers if they spoke publicly about the racism and discrimination they say they experienced. Current and former tech employees say the stringent agreements, which have become commonplace in the tech industry, are preventing the industry from making progress on issues of discrimination.

“Companies are using NDAs as a way to force peoples’ silence,” said Ifeoma Ozoma, a former Pinterest employee who recently spoke out about racism and abuse at the company.  “If we want the system to fundamentally change, people have to be able to talk about what happened to them.”

In some cases NDAs are required to receive severance pay after layoffs. And breaking an NDA could results in anywhere between $10,000 to $100,000 in legal fees — a risk that is just too great for many. 

“Like so many others, I wish I could [speak out],” said Nicole Sanchez, who is the board chair of Code 2040 and founder and managing partner of diversity and inclusion firm Vaya Consulting. “But it means leaving myself vulnerable to a lawsuit against people with way more resources than I will ever have.” 

Some employees told Protocol they were hopeful that new conversations sparked by protests over police brutality would empower more employees to speak out. “Now, I feel more confident sharing these things than ever,” said Nick DeJesus, a black man who experienced discrimination from his all-white team at a cybersecurity firm. “There’s genuine listening happening.”

Hill happenings

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) is pressing a facial recognition company whose faulty algorithm led to the arrest of an innocent man.

The Ohio Democrat sent a letter yesterday to DataWorks’s chief executive slamming the company for promoting its technologies as accurate and reliable despite reportedly conducting “no scientific or formal testing for accuracy or bias.”

The letter cites a recent report by Kashmir Hill at the New York Times that a faulty match by DataWorks’s software led to the arrest of an innocent Michigan man, Robert Williams, on charges of shoplifting in January. The American Civil Liberties Union filed a complaint with the city of Detroit over the arrest last week and has demanded the Detroit Police Department stop using facial recognition as an investigatory tool. 

The city’s contract with DataWorks expires later this month, and activists are pushing the city to not renew the services, Alfred Ng at CNET reports. The company’s technology has also been deployed in Michigan, Pennsylvania, California, South Carolina and Illinois.

Brown is asking for the company to describe the basis for its claims of accuracy as well as how its company’s leadership handles ethical considerations for the software. Brown also asks whether the company intends to follow the leads of Amazon, IBM and Microsoft in ending or putting a moratorium on sales of facial recognition software to local law enforcement.

Meanwhile, nearly 40 privacy and civil liberties groups led by the ACLU are urging Congress to ban federal use of facial recognition. 

“While many details about law enforcement use of this technology wrongly remain secret, the information we do have is cause for alarm,” the ACLU’s Guliani said in a statement.  “It’s past time Congress took action to halt the use of face recognition and prevent funding from being used to support its purchase and development.” 

The groups point to the arrest of Williams in Detroit as evidence that the technology isn’t fit for law enforcement and that Congress should stop funding its use locally and federally in a new letter sent yesterday. Williams and his wife met with members of Congress late last week to discuss his arrest, the ACLU says.

Some Democrats are worried sensitive data gathered for a federal coronavirus program could be shared with ICE.

The letter highlights a growing demand by lawmakers for transparency into how both private companies and the federal government are wielding vast troves of sensitive data collected in an effort to prevent the spread of the pandemic, Reed Albergotti reports.

“We are concerned that, without any safeguards, data in HHS Protect could be used by other federal agencies in unexpected, unregulated, and potentially harmful ways, such as in the law and immigration enforcement context,” a group including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), wrote in a letter to HHS Secretary Alex Azar that was shared with The Post.

Last week members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus brought up similar concerns with HHS Protect Now, which uses software from Palantir to track the spread of covid-19. Palantir is best known for working with ICE and intelligence agencies.

Both letters cited a 2018 case in which HHS gave ICE access to its Office of Refugee Resettlement records, leading to mass arrests and detentions.

The agency does not share any HHS Protect data with ICE and that the system doesn’t contain any personally identifiable information, HHS spokeswoman Katherine McKeogh said in a statement. But McKeogh did not address the letter’s concerns over reports that HHS has said it planned on collecting more sensitive information in the future.

Rant and rave

Kanye West and Elon Musk hung out. We asked for your best captions.

From our colleague Nitasha Tiku:

Some body positivity from BuzzFeed’s Scott Lucas:

CBS Sunday Morning Producer Amol Mhatre had a good name for the crew:

Some other front-runners:

BONUS: Some Internet sleuths quickly spotted that Grimes, Elon Musk’s partner and musician, is seen in the mirror behind them snapping the shot.

Coronavirus fallout

Apple will close 30 additional retail stores as coronavirus cases spike. 

 Apple, which was one of the first retailers to reopen, has now re-closed 77 stores in the United States, CNBC reports. The closures include the last two remaining stores in Florida.




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