In the period between June and October 2020, after our data collection process concluded but before our Rankings were released, Facebook was the subject of several high-profile media controversies related to the spread of misinformation, hate speech, and other discriminatory and incendiary content on its platforms. In some instances, such as in Kenosha, Wisconsin, it is alleged that Facebook’s failure to swiftly and systematically remove such content from its flagship platform may have indirectly contributed to the deaths of protesters.
Compounding our concerns about Facebook are the outcomes of its own Civil Rights Audit, released in July, which details its performance on matters including voter suppression and voter information, building a civil rights accountability infrastructure, content moderation and enforcement (including hate speech and harassment), advertising targeting and practices, diversity and inclusion, fairness in algorithms, and the civil rights implications of privacy practices, among others. While the transparency demonstrated by undertaking and publishing an audit of this type – voluntary in nature – is a positive step, the auditors noted that they had watched the “company make painful decisions over the last nine months with real world consequences that are serious setbacks for civil rights” and that “Facebook’s approach to civil rights remains too reactive and piecemeal.”
From recent polling conducted in collaboration with The Harris Poll, we found that almost two in three Americans (63%) say that companies have a moderate to significant role to play in taking an active stand against the spread of disinformation by identifying and debunking falsehoods and propaganda. Yet Facebook stands accused of repeatedly failing to halt the spread of misinformation and incendiary content, both of which could be categorized as acts of omission or non-action. An act of omission is more overt and measurable, particularly in the context of our research and ranking work. Facebook has not deliberately incited violence from extremist groups on its platform, but there is credible evidence to suggest that the company did not act with the speed and force necessary to stop it.
Recognizing that the spread of misinformation online is a complex problem for which a perfect solution may not exist, we have therefore put Facebook’s 2021 ranking “under review” and withheld the JUST Seal that denotes a company’s inclusion as one of America’s Most JUST Companies. The Seal is a reward for proven excellence. Until Facebook’s performance and alleged shortfalls are better understood, we deem unproven its case for JUST Capital’s highest honor.
Our objectives in ranking companies, and awarding leaders the JUST Seal, is simple: We want to measure company performance as accurately and objectively as possible, and we want to recognize, celebrate, and incentivize true leadership.
In the coming year, we will be taking concrete steps to further explore and quantify how Facebook’s actions (and inactions), and similar business behaviors by other internet companies, can be better reflected in our Rankings, in order to meet these objectives. These efforts start with our Polling Team, which will embark on a survey research program to better understand public opinion on these types of controversies. We will use a combination of qualitative and quantitative research fielded among a random sample of the American public, aged 18+, to understand:
- awareness of the controversies,
- comprehension of the issues, and
- opinions on whether Facebook deserves a place in the JUST 100 given the circumstances.
- Qualitative deep-dives (via one-on-one interviews, online discussion boards and/or virtual focus groups) in which we actively discuss the controversies.
- Sentiment analysis using third-party resources to more broadly understand public opinion (e.g. via non-Facebook owned social media, blogs, and other sources).
- Public perception work – understanding attitudes toward Facebook among users and non-users, and the evolution of those attitudes.
- Polling current and former Facebook employees about their opinions of leadership controversies (to the extent access is possible).
- Survey and polling work fielded among the American public to quantify awareness and preferences for course of action.
We will further investigate the extent to which our existing metrics are adequately capturing the social consequences of Facebook’s actions and other corporate actions like it. Facebook’s above-average performance on the fourth most important Issue in our Rankings, “Acts ethically and with integrity at the leadership level and takes responsibility for wrongdoings,” may reveal that one or more of its underlying metrics are not calibrated or sufficiently targeted to signals of repeated failures of leadership on matters of enormous social consequence. We will be conducting a detailed analysis of our metrics on this Issue and, as ever, working toward better measurement.
We will be updating this website with our progress in 2021.