Robinson, who formerly held posts at GLAAD and the Right to Vote Campaign, has led Color of Change since 2011. He spoke with WIRED about why he thinks Facebook is destructive, his interactions with Mark Zuckerberg, and why he wants Facebook’s VP of Global Public Policy fired. The interview was edited for length and clarity.Steven Levy: When did Color of Change first engage with Facebook?Rashad Robinson: We started five years ago, when Black Lives Matter activists were being doxed on Facebook. People were showing up to folks’ homes. People were being followed in grocery stores. We tried to get Facebook to do something about it, but they sent us through online portals designed to give us automated responses. We ended up having meetings at Facebook about it with mid-level policy people.
Did you feel disrespected?It would have been fine if we had gotten what we wanted. We demanded a civil rights audit of Facebook because there were just more and more stories around diversity and inclusion. We got a tepid response, no real movement. Facebook is very clear about who makes all the decisions. Then we worked with Cory Booker's office to have him ask a question of Mark Zuckerberg when he testified [at a 2018 Senate hearing] about doing a civil rights audit. Mark committed to it.
I remember that they paired the announcement of a civil rights audit with an audit by conservatives to look into their suspicions that Facebook is biased against them.Facebook has weaponized this idea that attacks on conservatives for their ideas is the same on attacks on black people for who we are. They might have a deeper understanding now, but at the time, they had a very limited understanding of civil rights and civil rights implications. And every time I talked to them, I felt like I was trying to help Facebook understand that there was left and right and there was right and wrong. When they actually brought someone in to train their staff on voter suppression—a respected former Legal Defense Fund lawyer—they also brought someone to do a training on quote unquote, voter fraud. [The speaker was Michael Toner, a former Federal Elections Commission chair and former head of the Republican National Committee. Facebook said in a statement, "We brought in two outside experts with decades of experience in voting rights and election law to provide training to Facebook staff working in the election war room." Numerous studies indicate that voter fraud is rare or nonexistent in the United States.]
Also on Friday, Business Insider reported that years of Zuckerberg’s public writings had mysteriously disappeared, “obscuring details about core moments in Facebook’s history.” The missing trove included everything the CEO wrote in both 2007 and 2008, as well as more recent announcements, like the blog post Zuckerberg penned in 2012 when Facebook acquired Instagram.