August 3, 2021

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Facebook Promises More Support For Human Rights

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Facebook has – belatedly, according to some – released a global corporate human rights policy, along with a fund supporting those defending human rights.

Rather than introducing any new rules on content, the new policy essentially codifies and regulates the company’s existing practices and introduces more transparency.

“This new policy sets out the human rights standards we will strive to respect as defined in international law including the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights (UNGPs),” says Facebook’s director of human rights, Miranda Sissons, in a blog post.

“And it sets out how we will apply these standards to our apps and products, policies, programming, and overall approach to our business.”

The most critical human rights issues, such as risks to freedom of expression, will be reported to the company’s board of directors. Meanwhile, Facebook will release an annual public report on how it’s addressing human rights concerns stemming from its products, policies or business practices.

And a new fund – the amount’s undisclosed – will give offline support to those defending human rights under threat, starting in Asia later this year. This is expected to involve offering security to activists and journalists.

“We’ll also build on our existing work to protect defenders’ accounts — efforts that include combating malicious actors who are targeting them, protecting them from incorrect content removals using Cross Check, offering advanced security options, taking steps to thwart unauthorized access to the accounts of defenders who are arrested or detained, and partnering with human rights organizations on outreach and training,” says Sissons.

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It remains to be seen how the new policy will play out – and campaign group Access Now has concerns.

“We welcome Facebook’s new human rights policy, a necessary step for every company seeking to respect human rights. But 17 years is too long to wait for this basic declaration, especially from a huge and powerful firm like Facebook,” says the group’s general counsel, Peter Micek.

“If Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg signed off on this policy, he must ensure its implementation, respecting calls from civil society while complying with rights-respecting regulation, to chart an entirely new direction at Facebook.”

Facebook’s received heavy criticism over the years for its attitudes to human rights, bowing to calls to ban the Myanmar military only after continued pressure. And, says Isedua Oribhabor, Access Now’s US policy analyst, “Facebook’s recent actions in Australia — blocking the accounts of civil society organizations in response to a controversial law — is just one example of exactly why the tech giant needs a human rights policy.

“Having a robust policy in place means that when Facebook acts in ways that undermine their stated commitments, the platform’s users, investors, regulators, courts, and Facebook’s own employees and contractors, have a concrete document to point to and hold the company accountable.”

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