Facebook on Tuesday faced a boycott led by the NAACP, one of the nation’s oldest civil rights groups, after researchers published reports detailing how Russian trolls weaponized its services to target black users during the 2016 U.S. presidential race.
The National Association for the Advancement of Colored People called for a boycott of the social networking service and two Facebook-owned apps, Instagram and WhatsApp, in light of a pair of Senate-commissioned reports concluding that the Internet Research Agency, a Russian company accused of interfering in the election, disproportionately set its sights on black users prior to President Trump’s election.
“#LogOutFacebook is a protest—a way to signify to Facebook that the data and privacy of its users of color matter more than its corporate interests,” said Derrick Johnson, the NAACP’s president and CEO since 2017, adding that “the spread of misinformation and the utilization of Facebook for propaganda promoting disingenuous portrayals of the African American community is reprehensible.”
“We’re holding Facebook accountable for the role it played in fueling racial tensions during the 2016 Presidential election,” Mr. Johnson told MarketWatch in a statement. “The way in which they handled the data breach, which targeted African-Americans was negligent at best and exploitative at worst. Facebook needs to acknowledge how it has undervalued people of color over the past two years.”
The NAACP has returned a donation received recently from Facebook and is calling on Congress to conduct further investigations into the company, Mr. Johnson added.
“Last year we met with Facebook & other tech companies about this issue,” the Congressional Black Caucus responded on Twitter. “If they can’t stop the weaponization of their platforms, then Congress will.”
Commissioned by the Senate Intelligence Committee, both of the reports found that the Internet Research Agency (IRA) heavily focused on black users during the course of conducting what the Department of Justice has previously described in federal court documents as “information warfare” against the U.S.
“The IRA created an expansive cross-platform media mirage targeting the Black community, which shared and cross-promoted authentic Black media to create an immersive influence ecosystem,” wrote researchers at New Knowledge, a cybersecurity firm behind one of the report.
“We take this incredibly seriously, as demonstrated by the investments we’ve made in safety and security,” responded Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook’s chief operating officer. “We know we need to do more,” she wrote in a blog post Tuesday.
The Justice Department filed criminal charges earlier as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into alleged Russian election interference against the Internet Research Agency and several Russians accused of ties to the so-called “troll farm,” including Yevgeny Prigozhin, a Russian businessman close to President Vladimir Putin accused of running the company. Lawyers for the defendants have pleaded not guilty, and Moscow has denied meddling in the race
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