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Facebook agrees to audits on civil rights, alleged conservative bias

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate judiciary and commerce committees on Capitol Hill over social media data breach, on April 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testifies before the Senate judiciary and commerce committees on Capitol Hill over social media data breach, on April 10, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Olivier Douliery/Abaca Press/TNS)
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“You can’t please everybody” is a maxim Facebook knows all too well.

Cases in point: Facebook will undergo a civil rights audit because of charges that it discriminates against minority groups, and it has agreed to a review of its alleged political bias against conservatives.

CEO Mark Zuckerberg heard complaints about those issues during his Congressional testimony last month. While he was in Washington to answer for the Cambridge Analytica data privacy mess, he also got an earful from Republican lawmakers who complained about alleged Facebook bias against them and their constituents. Some Democratic lawmakers questioned Zuckerberg about ads that allowed exclusion of certain ethnic groups, censoring civil rights activists and more.

Now, the social media giant will allow Relman, Dane & Colfax, a civil rights law firm based in Washington, D.C., to conduct an audit that will “look at civil rights and Facebook’s impact on underrepresented communities and communities of color,” a company spokeswoman said Wednesday. In addition, Laura Murphy, former director of the ACLU’s Washington Legislative Office, will take feedback from civil rights groups.

Oakland-based Center for Media Justice said it has been pushing for a civil rights audit at the company since 2016.

Facebook’s “decision to conduct an audit comes after a coordinated campaign led by Center for Media Justice and several of our allies, including Color of Change and Muslim Advocates, as well as public pressure from the Cambridge Analytica scandal,” said Steven Renderos, organizing director at Center for Media Justice, said in a statement to this news organization Wednesday. “Our expectation is that this audit is truly independent, engages civil rights stakeholders in the communities who have been most affected by their platform, and leads to actionable recommendations that Facebook must incorporate.”

Facebook will also work with former Arizona Republican Sen. Jon Kyl on the charges about bias against conservatives. Kyl’s Washington law firm, Covington & Burling, has a high-profile partner on its staff: Eric Holder, former U.S. attorney general, though it’s unclear whether he’ll be involved. Lest that triggers further concerns about bias, the effort will also include company meetings with the Heritage Foundation, a leading conservative think tank.

“Getting outside feedback will help us improve over time — ensuring that we can more effectively serve the people on Facebook,” said Joel Kaplan, vice president of global policy at Facebook, said in a statement Wednesday.

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