Black lawmakers press Sandberg on Facebook’s lack of diversity

Black lawmakers press Sandberg on Facebook’s lack of diversity
© Greg Nash

Black lawmakers used a meeting with Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg on Thursday to demand the company do more to address its lack of diversity.

“The fact that no African-Americans serve on the board of directors, there are no African-Americans in their C-suite — that is unacceptable,” Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldBlack lawmakers give tech sector low marks amid Silicon Valley trip Week ahead in tech: Black Caucus takes diversity push to Silicon Valley Overnight Tech: Black lawmakers press Sandberg on diversity at Facebook | Dems want hearing on Trump tweets about media | Watchdog to probe alleged FCC cyberattack MORE (D-N.C.) told reporters after the meeting with the Congressional Black Caucus.

Butterfield and Rep. Robin Kelly (D-Ill.) said that during the meeting, Sandberg heeded their concerns and committed to bringing a black director onto the company’s board “within the foreseeable future.”

“There will be at least an African-American on the board of directors and once a vacancy is created in the C-suite there will be African-American representation in the C-suite,” Butterfield said.

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Kelly said she believed Sandberg had a candidate in mind, but that Sandberg did not share further details with the caucus.

Lawmakers in the meeting also pushed Sandberg on how Russian actors used the platform to purchase political ads during the 2016 election, focusing specifically on ads that took advantage of racial tensions in the U.S.

“For us, this a very fragile moment in time for African-Americans across this country,” Congressional Black Caucus Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said. “What we needed Facebook to understand is that they play a role in the perception of African-Americans and they are influencers that use their platform to influence this country.”

Richmond suggested that racially charged posts on Facebook did not just influence the public, but also motivated decisions by law enforcement officials.

“If you look at the reputation of Black Lives Matter, for instance, they are portrayed as being violent. Take that and look at the FBI assessment in August where they created a new class of threats called ‘Black Identity Extremists,’ ” Richmond said after the meeting.

“It’s the craziest report because it says because you identify as black you are threat. That is offensive and we need to make sure we are not allowing people to make platforms like Facebook and Twitter and Google and any of the other ones to create that perception and [keep] the FBI from buying into it,” Richmond continued.

After Facebook revealed that Russian actors had purchased $100,000 worth of political ads on its platform during the 2016 election cycle, reports showed that some of the ads sought to exploit racial tensions. Some ads depicted Black Lives Matter as a growing political threat and another showed an image of a black woman brandishing a rifle.

The ads, in part, spurred a group of Congressional Black Caucus members to write to Facebook on Oct. 6, pressing the company on how it allowed ads that exploited racial divisions to make it onto its platform.

Several lawmakers who participated in the meeting described it as “positive,” but some said that they’re reserving final judgment until Facebook comes through on its promises.

“I think that she was very willing to discuss a number of issues — of course diversity being one of them — but actions speak louder than words,” said Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.). “We’ll see what the actions are.”

Butterfield also spoke favorably of the meeting, but said he was still hesitant after he saw little action following a previous meeting with Facebook that he also thought was positive.

“I left the meeting in 2015 feeling confident that African-Americans would be more significantly included in the company and that did not happen. And so today, I continue to be cautious but optimistic,” Butterfield said.