Facebook’s Decisions Were ‘Setbacks for Civil Rights,’ Audit Finds

“I don’t know if Mark appreciates that hateful speech has harmful results, and that Facebook groups have real-world consequences,” said Jonathan Greenblatt, chief executive of the Anti-Defamation League and one of the leaders of the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign.

Civil rights groups including Free Press and Color of Change also met on Wednesday with nearly 300 ad agency and brand marketing leaders about Facebook. In the session, they said the new audit report exposed holes in the company’s content policies and enforcement practices, according to attendees.

The audit “has laid bare what we already know — Facebook is a platform plagued by civil rights shortcomings,” said Vanita Gupta, chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. “Facebook has an enormous impact on our civil rights — by facilitating hate speech and violence, voter and census disinformation, and algorithmic bias, and by shortchanging diversity and inclusion.”

In the report, the auditors credited Facebook for making progress on some issues over the past two years, including increasing the hiring of some in-house civil rights experts and creating an ad system that would no longer allow advertisers running housing, employment and credit ads in the United States to target users based on gender, age or ZIP code. Mr. Zuckerberg had also personally committed to building products that “advance racial justice,” the report said.

But Facebook had been too willing to let politicians out of abiding by its rules, allowing them to spread misinformation, harmful rhetoric and even calls to violence, the report said.

The auditors said their concerns had increased over the past nine months because of decisions made by Mr. Zuckerberg and Nick Clegg, Facebook’s global head of policy and communications.

Last fall, Mr. Zuckerberg delivered a speech at Georgetown University about his commitment to protecting free speech at all costs. Since then, the report noted, Facebook had refused to take down inflammatory posts from Mr. Trump and had permitted untruthful political ads to be circulated.