Facebook has hired a vice president of civil rights as it looks to improve its handling of such issues. Roy Austin Jr., a long-time civil rights attorney and advocate, will set up Facebook's civil rights organization and become a deputy general counsel. However, the company has yet to reveal the full scope or goals of the organization.
“I am excited to join Facebook at this moment when there is a national and global awakening happening around civil rights," Austin, who previously worked in the Obama administration and co-authored a report on big data and civil rights, said in a statement. "Technology plays a role in nearly every part of our lives, and it’s important that it be used to overcome the historic discrimination and hate which so many underrepresented groups have faced, rather than to exacerbate it."
Facebook’s hiring of Austin comes as the company faces deeper scrutiny over its handling of racism, violent rhetoric and misinformation in the wake of last week’s pro-Trump riots on Capitol Hill. It suspended President Donald Trump’s account indefinitely after he failed to condemn the mob.
Last summer, the company faced a major advertising boycott, which was organized by civil rights groups in response to what they described as Facebook's “long history of allowing racist, violent and verifiably false content to run rampant on its platform.” Around the same time, Facebook pledged to hire a civil rights leader and to place employees with civil rights expertise in core teams.
Chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote that while the company had made progress on those fronts, it still had "a long way to go" after it failing an audit over such matters. The authors of the audit determined that Facebook’s leaders had made decisions “with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights” and warned that the platform could become an echo chamber for extremism.