Statement from OTI Director Sarah Morris on Facebook Funding

Press Release
June 9, 2020

Last week, leadership at Facebook refused to take down a post from President Donald Trump threatening that "when the looting starts, the shooting starts" in reference to nationwide demonstrations against police brutality, as well as other posts from the President that promoted disinformation about mail-in voting. Civil rights groups sharply criticized the policy, and hundreds of Facebook employees staged a “virtual walkout” in protest of the company’s decision. Amid this outcry, Facebook’s leadership dismissed civil rights groups’ concerns and reiterated the company’s policy of non-intervention for harmful posts by public figures that would otherwise violate the platform's policies.

In reflection on Facebook’s years of struggles to implement content moderation policies that do not reinforce systems of racism, and in light of the failure of the company’s leaders to respond meaningfully to concerns raised against the backdrop of the past weeks’ deep turmoil, the Open Technology Institute has decided that, as of today, it will decline further funding from Facebook.

The following quote can be attributed to Sarah Morris, director of New America’s Open Technology Institute:

“As the country confronts its long, deeply rooted history of racism, we must all acknowledge our own role in racist systems and make changes to ensure we are part of the solution, rather than the problem. With over 2.6 billion users, Facebook has a clear responsibility to reckon with its role in these systems or risk continuing to facilitate oppression that imperils Black lives.

“Despite repeated calls to action from inside and outside the company, Facebook has long struggled with this responsibility. It has suspended the accounts of Black users and removed their content while permitting racist content from white supremacist groups. Civil rights groups like The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights and Color of Change have worked tirelessly to push Facebook to reform its policies around online speech that incites real world violence, encourages voter suppression, and spreads disinformation meant to disenfranchise communities of color on the platform. Nevertheless, last week Facebook’s leadership doubled down in defense of the decision to allow posts from the President that included calls to violence and false information about primary elections. While Facebook has suggested it may revisit its policies around false and incendiary political speech, the totality of the company’s words, timing, and actions matters.

“We must do more to hold companies and ourselves accountable. As of today, the Open Technology Institute is declining further funding from Facebook. OTI will continue to engage with the company on a variety of policy issues, and we hope to maintain a constructive dialogue going forward as we work toward meaningful change.”