Accountability Groups Stage 4-Day Facebook 'Logout' Over Network's Content-Moderation Practices

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The Facebook "thumb's up" logo on a smartphone, with the "Meta" logo in the background.
Thousands of Facebook and Instagram users on Wednesday began a boycott — or 'logout' — of the two platforms, owned by parent company Meta. (Chris Delmas/AFP via Getty Images)

A coalition of more than 30 tech accountability groups and national political organizations, upset with what they say has been Facebook's ham-handed approach to content moderation, has organized a four-day boycott of the social media behemoth (now known as Meta), beginning Wednesday.

"Facebook spends more energy trying to mend their broken public image than fixing what’s happening on their platform and at the company," the Kairos Fellowship, a nonprofit focused on advancing racial and economic justice through tech accountability, said in a statement.

The group, which organized the boycott in partnership with a wide swath of mostly progressive organizations — including NARAL Pro-Choice America and MoveOn — is urging users to stay away from Facebook and Instagram through Saturday.

More than 51,000 people have pledged to log out, "amplifying our demands for Facebook to curb disinformation, increase transparency on content moderation decisions and halt surveillance advertising," Kairos's executive director, Mariana Ruiz Firmat, said.

Last year, following George Floyd’s murder by a Minneapolis police offer, a number of big tech and communications companies, including Microsoft, Verizon and HP, stopped advertising on Facebook and Instagram, in some cases for a month, in an effort to show solidarity with protesters who said Facebook wasn't doing enough to counter hate speech on its platform.

But there's been no significant repeat pullout, even as Facebook has recently come under fire for a spate of potentially major transgressions — from allegations of "shadow-banning" of BIPOC activists, to evidence the company knowingly promoted platforms that harm children and incite political violence, to reports detailing the more lenient approach it has taken to misinformation and disinformation disseminated by its "VIP" users.

A coalition of more than 30 national organizations like The Women’s March, MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America, United We Dream and more have endorsed the campaign to log off Facebook and Instagram temporarily in a bid to pressure Meta to reform its economic model built on attracting advertisers by algorithmically encouraging users to spend more time on the sites viewing politically and culturally divisive content.
A coalition of more than 30 national organizations, including The Women’s March, MoveOn, NARAL Pro-Choice America and United We Dream, has endorsed the campaign to log off Facebook and Instagram temporarily in a bid to pressure its parent company, Meta, to reform its economic model, which is built on attracting advertisers by algorithmically encouraging users to spend more time viewing politically and culturally divisive content on its sites. (Courtesy of Kairos)

A number of users taking part in the boycott, however, say they are doing so out of frustration, after their groups on the platform were removed, with no explanation or recourse from the company. The company, they insist, needs to start treating its nonpaying users like valued customers.

Algorithms paired with virtually no human customer service have made life difficult for people like Nick Wright of San José. An engineer by day, at night he runs History Alliance, a collection of roughly 30 Facebook history groups that collectively have more than 1 million members.

Wright says he understands why Facebook uses artificial intelligence to screen for an onslaught of offensive content like racist slurs or calls to violence, material CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly pledged to control over the years. But Wright says the software often functions like a "sledgehammer."

"They start deleting your member comments. They start deleting threads. We’ve even had our groups deleted by Facebook without comment, without notice," he said.

Wright says Facebook deleted his alliance's WWII & Military History group. In retrospect, he says, he presumes there were too many instances when a post or comment included a slur that was common in the 1930s and 1940s.

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But there was no communication or warning from the company before the group was deleted, he said. Other groups he's been involved in have also been suspended because, he thinks, its members have posted or shared too frequently, leading Facebook bots to identify them as spammers.

"They wouldn't tell us why, and there was no escalation path to recovery. We had 50,000 members and we had no way to engage," Wright said.

Wright ended up posting a notice to another group in his alliance focused on San Francisco history. He hoped one of the group's 130,000 members might be a Facebook employee.

Sure enough, he said, a Facebook engineer in the group, based in Greece, responded and advocated for his WWII group to be restored.

"It's U.S. history, right?" Wright said. "It's not, you know, some right-edge, you know, cis-theory group. It's simply things that happened."

He later learned Facebook's AI triggered on a swastika on a German uniform.

Without finding an advocate on the inside, Wright said, there's no recourse for exasperated group administrators who feel they've been unfairly targeted — unless, however, that person or organization is an advertiser, and has a direct line to customer service.

This week, Meta published yet another report celebrating the recent strides it's made to counter hate speech and other violations of its community standards. The company, for instance, claims that "prevalence of hate speech content was about 0.03% in the third 2021, which was a decrease from Q2 2021."

"We want Facebook and Instagram to be places where people have a voice," the company said in the report. "To create conditions where everyone feels comfortable expressing themselves, we must also protect their safety, privacy, dignity and authenticity."

Meta did not respond to a request for comment on the boycott, and Kairos on Wednesday said it had still not received a response from the company either.

"Our campaign demonstrates the urgency for the company to take accountability for the real world dangers it poses to our communities not just in the United States, but globally," the group said in its statement. "Users are taking back their power by coming together, and we will keep speaking out until Facebook implements the sweeping changes we’re demanding."