Shareholders press Twitter, Facebook to act on fake news, hate speech, sexual harassment

Logo of the Twitter and Facebook are seen through magnifier on display in this illustration taken in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina, December 16, 2015. REUTERS/Dado Ruvic

A group of shareholders on Thursday demanded that Facebook and Twitter disclose more information about sexual harassment, fake news, hate speech and other forms of abuse that take place on the companies’ platforms.

The shareholder resolution by the New York State Comptroller’s office, which operates the state’s pension fund, and Arjuna Capital, a Boston-based boutique investment firm, puts pressure on tech giants to publish detailed reports on the scope of the problems and how they plan to address them.

In the last two years, Silicon Valley companies have come under fire as never before for widespread abuse of their services, from profiteers spreading false news stories in the run-up to the U.S. presidential election to a series of violent acts that were committed in real-time on Facebook’s video-streaming service, Facebook Live. Advocates, politicians and many former executives have begun to question the value of the products they built and ask whether those products have had a negative impact on the world.

Both Twitter and Facebook occasionally post information about their progress and goals in fighting abuse, but the disclosures are highly selective. For example, Facebook has said that the vast majority of reports of violence are reviewed within 24 hours but has not disclosed how many violent acts get posted on the platform or how widely they spread before being taken down. Twitter recently updated its policies on hate speech to clarify that groups that promote violence – either on or off the platform – would be kicked off but has never revealed the extent of hate speech.

In September, the Daily Beast published a story showing how Twitter’s ad systems identified 26.3 million users who may respond to the term “wetback,” 18.6 million to “Nazi” and 14.5 million to the n-word, if those words were used to target ads. Women boycotted Twitter in October after the service temporarily suspended the account of actress Rose McGowan when she was tweeting about sexual harassment issues.

Facebook and Twitter declined to comment.

Together the shareholders hold roughly $35 million worth of Twitter stock and roughly $1.1 billion of Facebook.



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