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WASHINGTON — According to the New York Times, Facebook surreptitiously conducted a lengthy campaign to delay, deny, deflect and discredit efforts to call the company to account for its many abuses of the public trust.

Under the direction of Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook hired a Republican opposition-research firm to smear some of the company’s critics for their ties to financier and philanthropist George Soros. Making such claims is a common practice of anti-Semitic groups. The Times report indicates that Facebook is willing to leverage the so-called alt-right’s ongoing efforts to demonize Soros in social media and the press.

Such attacks — often conveyed via Facebook — have resulted in death threats and actual violence, and in Soros’ case the delivery of a pipe bomb to his home.

And Soros isn’t alone. Hate groups and others have used Facebook to promote malicious and false stories, spread racism and polarize populations. Those most often caught in the crosshairs are innocent people or groups targeted because of their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation or disability.

In October, Free Press and a coalition of racial-justice, anti-hate and open-internet groups launched “Change the Terms,” a campaign to help tech companies combat hateful activities. The initiative includes a set of recommended corporate policies that companies can implement to disrupt White-supremacist groups and others working to spread their hateful ideologies online.

Free Press Deputy Director and Senior Counsel Jessica J. González made the following statement:

“Facebook has repeatedly promised to curtail hateful activities and groups on its network. That its top executives sought to inflame such hatred as a political tactic is disgraceful.

“According to the Times, Facebook used such underhanded tactics to distract from and discredit efforts to make the company more accountable for its many flaws, especially the viral propaganda and hatred spreading across its network.

“It’s clear from the Times report that Facebook would rather undermine these kinds of initiatives than embrace them. It would rather use the tools of hate to silence dissent than address critics’ legitimate concerns. That’s not acceptable.

“Free Press is calling on Congress to compel Facebook to provide a full accounting under oath of its smear campaign against critics. In addition, the Change the Terms coalition is calling on Facebook to adopt the coalition’s model corporate policies. We would especially like to call the company’s attention to the section on governance, which recommends that a board committee and senior executives be accountable to the public for Facebook’s content-moderation process.

“If Facebook is serious about disrupting hateful activities online and off, it must model better behavior in its boardroom and executive suites, as well as in its terms of service.”

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