Facebook shut internal forum that grew sexist, racist

The social network closed the message board, which was popular with Donald Trump supporters, shortly after the election.

Andrew Morse Former executive editor
Andrew Morse is a veteran reporter and editor. Before joining CNET, he worked at The Wall Street Journal, Reuters and Bloomberg, among other publications.
Andrew Morse
4 min read

Mark Zuckerberg.

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Facebook shuttered an anonymous internal forum late last year, reportedly because people were using the message board to post sexist and racist comments.

The social giant closed the forum, FB Anon, after a flurry of offensive posts, according to the The Wall Street Journal and Business Insider. The offensive posts included some that said Facebook lowered the bar for female engineers in order to flatter its diversity numbers, one person told the Journal.

The forum had been popular with employees who supported the candidacy of Donald Trump in the contentious 2016 US presidential race, according to the reports. The forum was closed in December 2016.  

Facebook confirmed the forum had been shut, saying it violated the social network's policy of using real names. 

 "The FB Anon internal Facebook group violated our Terms of Service, which require people who use Facebook (including our employees) to use an authentic identity on our platform," Lori Goler, Facebook's head of people, said in a statement. "Last year we disabled any anonymous internal groups or pages within Facebook, and reminded our people of the places at our company where they can have discussions about issues that matter to them, openly or confidentially as appropriate."  

Facebook's internal move comes as Silicon Valley companies attempt to protect free speech while curbing hate speech, a goal that has grown in importance since violence claimed the life of a women protesting against a white nationalist rally last weekend in Charlottesville, Virginia. Domain registrars GoDaddy and Google Domains, which is a part of Alphabet, revoked registrations for The Daily Stormer, a neo-Nazi website and organizer of the rally, while other companies, including Apple and PayPal, have disabled services to merchants glorifying white nationalism or racism. Reddit and Facebook have banned entire groups dedicated to hate speech.

News of Facebook's clampdown follows Google's recent firing of an engineer who wrote a lengthy memo arguing men are better suited than women for tech jobs. James Damore's document, titled "Google's Ideological Echo Chamber," prompted many Google employees to publically express outrage over the manifesto.  

On Wednesday, CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote on his personal Facebook page that the social network welcomed a diversity of opinion and views but would draw the line at hate. Zuckerberg specifically mentioned the events in Virginia.

"With the potential for more rallies, we're watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm," Zuckerberg wrote. "We won't always be perfect, but you have my commitment that we'll keep working to make Facebook a place where everyone can feel safe."

Here's his entire post:

We aren't born hating each other. We aren't born with such extreme views. We may not be able to solve every problem, but we all have a responsibility to do what we can. I believe we can do something about the parts of our culture that teach a person to hate someone else.

It's important that Facebook is a place where people with different views can share their ideas. Debate is part of a healthy society. But when someone tries to silence others or attacks them based on who they are or what they believe, that hurts us all and is unacceptable.

There is no place for hate in our community. That's why we've always taken down any post that promotes or celebrates hate crimes or acts of terrorism -- including what happened in Charlottesville. With the potential for more rallies, we're watching the situation closely and will take down threats of physical harm. We won't always be perfect, but you have my commitment that we'll keep working to make Facebook a place where everyone can feel safe.

The last few days have been hard to process. I know a lot of us have been asking where this hate comes from. As a Jew, it's something I've wondered much of my life. It's a disgrace that we still need to say that neo-Nazis and white supremacists are wrong -- as if this is somehow not obvious. My thoughts are with the victims of hate around the world, and everyone who has the courage to stand up to it every day.

There may always be some evil in the world, and maybe we can't do anything about that. But there's too much polarization in our culture, and we can do something about that. There's not enough balance, nuance, and depth in our public discourse, and I believe we can do something about that. We need to bring people closer together, and I know we can make progress at that.

First published, Aug. 17, 12:31 a.m. PT.
Update, Aug. 18 at 12:40 a.m. PT: Adds Facebook's confirmation.

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