Facebook commits to staving off census misinformation

Facebook commits to staving off census misinformation
© Greg Nash

Facebook is working to get ahead of efforts to deter people in the U.S. from filling out the 2020 census, according to a civil rights report and blog post released Sunday.

The company is planning to ban users from spreading disinformation around the census, as well as to create a team dedicated to staving off any efforts by bad actors to interfere in the demographics survey.

ADVERTISEMENT

Facebook will also begin training employees in how to spot census suppression and bring on outside experts to consult with as the census gets closer.

"The census is a constitutional requirement that serves as the foundation for allocating federal benefits and electoral representation," Laura Murphy, a top civil rights attorney who is leading Facebook's ongoing civil rights audit, wrote in her latest report released Sunday.

"The significance of the census, coupled with the historical undercounting of certain groups, including Latinos, African Americans, Asian Americans, Native Americans and other communities of color, immigrants, and people who are incarcerated, reinforces why the census is a critical focus area," she said.

According to Murphy, Facebook has committed to prioritizing preventing census misinformation as well as voter suppression ahead of the 2020 presidential election.

Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg in a blog post on Sunday said Facebook will "treat next year’s Census like an election – with people, policies, and technology in place to protect against Census interference."

The company is planning to unveil a policy in the fall that will specifically ban typical kinds of census interference, such as posts that misrepresent the methods or logistics around filling out census forms.

The efforts will come as Facebook gears up for the 2020 presidential election after failing to deter the spread of disinformation and manipulative content on its platform in 2016.

Facebook over the past year has been undergoing a civil rights audit, led by Murphy, who has conferred with more than 90 civil rights organizations about their concerns over how Facebook can be manipulated to discriminate against minorities and other marginalized groups.

The U.S., which takes place every 10 years, is a congressionally mandated process in which the country is able to gather information about its population, including its size and demographic makeup.

The census is used to decide where federal funds will be allocated and how congressional districts will be drawn.

Facebook's census announcement comes days after the Supreme Court last week ruled that the Trump administration did not give an adequate reason for adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census, a controversial proposal that critics say would deter many immigrants from filling out the survey, resulting in a significant undercount.