NAACP Calls for Facebook Boycott After Report Details Russian Trolls Targeted Black Communities

Some examples of memes used by Russia’s IRA agency to target African Americans.
Photo: AP Images

Starting today, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People is calling for users to log out of Facebook and other Facebook-owned social media and chat apps like Instagram and WhatsApp. The weeklong boycott is in response to two reports released on Monday detailing how Russian hackers specifically targeted African Americans in the 2016 election.

The civil rights group also noted on Twitter that it has returned a recent donation from Facebook. But while the reports may have triggered the #LogOutFacebook boycott, the NAACP is also pointing to Facebook’s many other blunders around data privacy and advertising. It also doesn’t help that former Facebook manager Mark S. Luckie recently sent out a 2,500-word memo detailing how the company excluded and discriminated against black employees and users.

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In a call to action, the NAACP stated, “Facebook’s engagement with partisan firms, its targeting of political opponents, the spread of misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible.”

Researchers found that Russian accounts heavily targeted African Americans during the 2016 election in a bid to suppress votes for Hillary Clinton. According to New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm that authored one of the reports, Russia’s Internet Research Agency basically created an extensive media ecosystem targeting African Americans that weaved together propaganda with authentic black media and small businesses. Some tactics included posts on Instagram that Hillary Clinton had received $20,000 in donations from the Ku Klux Klan, and leaned heavily on Black Lives Matter imagery and police brutality memes to spread misinformation.

Coinciding with the start of the NAACP boycott, Facebook also issued an update today to its civil rights audit. The audit was commissioned in May and has been led by civil rights leader Laura Murphy.

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“Two independent reports commissioned by the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence released Monday on the Russian Internet Research Agency’s use of technology around the 2016 election suggest that the IRA’s efforts had a disproportionate impact on communities of color,” writes Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg in a blog about the update. “We take this incredibly seriously, as demonstrated by the investments we’ve made in safety and security.”

[Bloomberg]

Update 11:20am ET: A Facebook spokesperson later sent the following statement to Gizmodo.

We understand the areas of concern that the NAACP and other civil rights groups have raised with us and we are grateful for their feedback. We’re listening and we agree that we have areas that we can improve. We have acknowledged and apologized for the security incidents and privacy missteps we’ve had in the past, and we continue to invest in solutions to keep our platform safe and improve. For example, we’ve put in more than three dozen privacy controls, created a privacy governance team, and ensured that our privacy program managers collaborate closely with our products team. We’ve also doubled the team that works on security from 10,000 to 20,000.We have been working on our civil rights audit since May to address some of the other critiques from the NAACP and other civil rights organizations, and we will continue that work and provide periodic updates until the audit is complete.

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Victoria Song

Consumer tech reporter by day, danger noodle by night. No, I'm not the K-Pop star.