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Facebook's Sandberg details company's voter engagement efforts on day of boycott

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Facebook's Sandberg details company's voter engagement efforts on day of boycott

On Dec. 18, Facebook Inc. COO Sheryl Sandberg detailed new platform features designed to reduce misuse of its platforms for voter suppression campaigns, the same day the NAACP, the oldest civil rights organization in the U.S., organized a boycott of Facebook and Instagram Inc.

The reforms were announced as an update on the ongoing audit led by Laura Murphy, civil rights leader and former director of the ACLU Legislative Office. Facebook commissioned the audit earlier this year in response to calls from civil rights groups. Sandberg said Murphy had provided a range of suggestions for Facebook ahead of the 2018 midterm elections.

The Facebook COO acknowledged in a Dec. 18 blog post that two independent reports commissioned by the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee and released a day earlier "suggest that the [Russia-based Internet Research Agency's] efforts had a disproportionate impact on communities of color." Sandberg said that Facebook takes the findings seriously, as demonstrated by the company's ongoing investments in safety and security.

Murphy's suggestions included using strong approaches to prevent misinformation and voter suppression; developing clear public policies banning voter suppression and intimidation; and improving transparency of how Facebook operationalizes its election integrity efforts. It also implored the company to seek guidance from voting rights experts to train Facebook's staff on responding to voter suppression content on the platform.

Sandberg said Facebook updated its policy on voter suppression to expressly ban misrepresentations about how to vote, and now sends content flagged for possibly misrepresenting voting conditions or acceptable places to vote to third-party fact-checkers. Facebook also now prohibits threats of violence related to voting or voter registration as part of its policy on voter suppression.

Sandberg said the company's focus on voter suppression was "a direct response to feedback from civil rights advocates."

Additionally, Sandberg detailed new features the company designed to increase voter participation, such as a reminder to register to vote when people turn 18, a reminder to vote on election days and a tool that allows people to encourage others to join them in registering to vote.

The boycott was called for by civil rights groups over a range of concerns, including privacy mishaps, a lack of employee diversity, and reports that Facebook hired partisan strategy and research firms. Facebook has also been confronted with calls for a leadership change.