Facebook has been in headlines frequently lately, and the press has not been positive. After claims of unfair working conditions, retaliation and pandering to right-wing figures, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s name is in the news again. He attended a congressional hearing on Wednesday to discuss Facebook’s proposed cryptocurrency, Libra. Instead, he got an earful about his company’s civil rights blunders from Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio).
Beatty questioned Zuckerberg on his and Facebook’s commitment to civil rights, rendering him nearly speechless. First, she called out Zuckerberg’s opening statement, which she said reflected a halfhearted, feigned dedication to civil rights.
“In your opening statement, you talked a lot about civil rights,” Beatty said. “I think we should probably phrase it a little differently: That your work with civil rights work is because of, is a result of, the number of lawsuits that you’ve had.”
Facebook has been inundated with civil rights cases recently. This year, Facebook settled three ad discrimination lawsuits and two complaints that accused Facebook of allowing ads in the areas of housing, employment and credit to be targeted by race. Civil rights laws protect from targeting in these areas.
Beatty asked Zuckerberg if he knew what redlining — the illegal practice of denying people loans and insurance or steering them to live in certain neighborhoods because of their race — is. He responded that he did.
“OK, then you should have known better, and maybe if you had real diversity or inclusion on your team somebody in that room would have said what you were doing when you looked at what you were doing in the housing, how you were redlining or using zip codes to eliminate people from getting information,” Beatty said.
In June, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg published a blog post detailing the company’s actions to better their civil rights practices. She noted that the company underwent a detailed audit and began working to fight discrimination in ads and strengthen policies against harmful content. The post also announced Facebook would be working with the “noted civil rights law firm,” Relman, Dane and Colfax.
Beatty quizzed Zuckerberg on his knowledge of civil rights advocate Laura Murphy’s civil rights report supported by Relman, Dane and Colfax — and he failed.
“Tell me what the top three things were because I have it right here,” Beatty said. “Tell me what the top three things were in her report.”
Zuckerberg said the report covered housing and setting up a civil rights task force. When Beatty quizzed him on who was to be on the task force, Zuckerberg mentioned Sandberg.
“We know Sheryl is really not civil rights — I’m trying to help you here. She’s your COO, and I don’t think there’s anything — and I know Sheryl very well — about civil rights in her background,” Beatty said. “So come better than that for me if we’re going to talk about civil rights.”
The most blistering 2 minutes from today’s Facebook hearing (supposedly about Libra) is Rep. Joyce Beatty (D-OH) absolutions lighting in to Zuckerberg (and Sheryl Sandberg) about civil rights pic.twitter.com/4cd28Tyg2O
— Marcus Gilmer (@marcusgilmer) October 23, 2019
As Zuckerberg began to answer, mentioning an internal task force, she cut him off and asked him if he knew the name of the firm his company was working with.
“Uh, Congresswoman, I don’t,” Zuckerberg said.
Relman, Dane and Colfax is one of the best-known civil rights firms in the country for its victories in cases regarding housing, employment and education civil rights law. Beatty berated Zuckerberg for not knowing the firm his company employed to help it move forward from its high-profile issues with diversity. She accused Zuckerberg of not taking the issue seriously.
“How could you not know when you have employed the most historical, the largest civil rights firm to deal with issues that are major,” she said. “And this is what’s so frustrating to me. It’s almost like you think this is a joke.”
Beatty continued, drawing attention to the civil rights issues Facebook has caused.
“When you have ruined the lives of many people, discriminated against them,” Beatty said. “Do you know what percentage of African Americans are on Facebook in comparison to majority folks?”
Zuckerberg said he did not because Facebook did not collect data on users’ race. But Beatty said a Pew Research Center report shows that Blacks are using Facebook less than other ethnic and racial groups and less than they have in the past.
“So maybe you just don’t read a lot of things that deal with civil rights or African Americans,” Beatty said.
The hearing was live-streamed and went viral on social media. The hashtag #Zuckerberg trended on Twitter following the live stream.
Other congress members also questioned Zuckerberg, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), who called out Zuckerberg’s defense of allowing political campaign ads to skirt the fact-checking process on account of free speech. Additionally, Rep. Al Green (D-Texas) grilled Zuckerberg on why the Libra project is overseen by mainly white men.
Facebook’s internal diversity numbers are poor, despite positive PR campaigns to tout them. Its global workforce is 63.1% male, and in the U.S., 44.2% white, according to its 2019 Diversity report. These numbers improved only slightly from the previous year. In 2018, its global workforce was 63.7% male, and in the U.S., 46.6% white.