CBC members to press Facebook's Sandberg on race issues

CBC members to press Facebook's Sandberg on race issues
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Some members of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC) have formed a coalition to press Facebook for action on racial issues, a congressional aide with knowledge of the discussions tells The Hill.

“[They’re] done with the excuses,” the aide said.

The coalition, whose membership is still unclear, plans to take advantage of its meeting with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday to press her on what they see as the social media giant's inaction on race issues.

The Sandberg discussion is part of a growing feeling in the CBC that lawmakers need to draw the line with technology companies who they say are neglecting matters that hurt people of color on their platforms and within their companies.

The group will focus its dialogue with Sandberg on Facebook’s “diversity tone-deafness,” including why the company has no black members on its board of directors, why Facebook allowed minority communities to be targeted with its advertising products and who is being held accountable to make sure that such ads don’t appear on Facebook in the future.  

The coalition is also frustrated with racially charged Facebook ads that were used as part of the $100,000 political ad buy by Russian actors around the 2016 presidential race in an apparent attempt to inflame racial tensions. The group of CBC members plans to address this with Sandberg as well.

Some members of the CBC have already pressured Facebook on similar issues. At the end of September, Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) penned a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking that the company “ensure that discriminatory and tactically divisive ad-targeting is aggressively prevented.”

Ads purchased by the Russian actors included messages suggesting that Black Lives Matter is a political threat and encouraged viewers to attend an anti-Muslim and anti-immigration rally in Idaho.

A week later, Kelly and Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) and Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) wrote another letter to Facebook pressing the company to increase diversity on its board, curb fake news on its platform and end “incendiary racial advertising” on Facebook.

Facebook confirmed to The Hill that it has discussed these matters further with Kelly.

The CBC is not unified in its criticism of technology companies. At least one member of the caucus, former Chairman G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldOn The Money: Harley-Davidson decision raises trade tensions with Trump | Senate panel to take up tariff legislation | CBO projects grim budget outlook under Trump | White House objects to measure on reinstating ZTE ban Dem lawmakers seek distance from Waters call for confrontation 'Diamond & Silk' offer chance for bipartisan push back on social media censorship MORE (D-N.C.), believes that Facebook is headed in the right direction.

“I think Facebook has figured it out. I think that they’re going to be more circumspect,” Butterfield told The Hill last week. “Facebook is aware of our concerns and I believe we’re going see a more cautious approach to social media.”

Members of the CBC have expressed frustration with Facebook over the past year for ad tools that allowed would-be advertisers to discriminate or target ads based on racist terms.