In what activists are calling a rare moment of accountability for Facebook, the social media giant announced plans to protect Georgia poll workers from threats of violence on their platform. Facebook will enroll people who are working on the Georgia Senate runoff election in Facebook Protect, which provides stronger account security protections like two-factor authentication and monitors for potential hacking threats.
Yesterday’s announcement was quietly rolled out as part of Facebook’s new policy on political ads in Georgia’s runoffs. A coalition of more than 60 progressive groups, organized by leading national women’s group UltraViolet and including DemCast, sent an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, COO Sheryl Sandberg, and Director of External Affairs Lindsay Elin demanding an emergency action to respond to the escalating threats of violence against election workers. You can read the full open letter here.
Facebook told activists that they “communicated this information directly to the state elections office and encouraged them to share the information with the county elections offices.” At the same time, Facebook will reach out to each county with information about enrolling their election workers in Facebook Protect. Further, Facebook announced, “[W]e are continuing to keep political and social issue groups and new groups out of our recommendations, and we are continuing to require admins and moderators of some political and social groups in the U.S. to approve all posts, if their group has a number of Community Standards violations.”
In reaction to Facebook’s announcement, Bridget Todd, communications director of UltraViolet released the following statement:
“Facebook has historically played a role in disempowering champions of democracy but their late support of Georgia’s poll workers during one of the most politically contested elections of the year is a step in the right direction — one with the potential to save lives.
“Make no mistake — Facebook has a responsibility to protect our democracy and people who administer it, especially when they’ve played a significant role in recruiting those poll workers and radicalized the people threatening them.
“Many of Georgia’s poll workers are women and women of color facing a plethora of threats this year, including COVID-19, violence from right-wing extremists, and harassment in person, online and over the phone. These are some of the most vulnerable members of society risking their lives to ensure a free and fair democratic process. The least Facebook could do is make sure they didn’t have to fear for their lives and safety while doing their jobs.”
The progressive coalition pointed out that the “majority of election workers are women, and many extremists are focusing their attacks on Black election workers in majority Black district.” The letter further argued, “These Black women who make our democracy work are facing harassment, intimidation, and threats of violence and Facebook has an opportunity to change that.”
While we at DemCastUSA consider Facebook’s announcement a positive step, we know that the company is often slow to delete threats and harassing posts aimed at public servants including election workers. We plan to remain vigilant and encourage our readers to be aware as well. We will continue to hold Facebook accountable.
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