Racist falsehoods about George Floyd, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor are still on Facebook

(USA Today) - Fabricated claims debunked by fact-checkers targeting victims of police brutality George Floyd, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor remain on Facebook, despite pledges by the social media giant to support the Black community, a new investigation from human rights group Avaaz found.

Racist falsehoods about George Floyd, Jacob Blake and Breonna Taylor are still on Facebook

Insinuating racist stereotypes and tropes, the claims include that Floyd's death under the knee of a white police officer was staged, that Blake raped a 14-year-old and that Taylor was shot in bed while she was asleep (she was awake).

Some 137 posts with false and misleading narratives about Floyd, Taylor and Blake generated nearly 1 million interactions and an estimated 19 million views on Facebook between September 2019 and September 2020, Avaaz found.

Some of the pages and groups that shared the disinformation also amplified election fraud and helped mobilize members to rally for President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C., on Jan. 6, according to Avaaz.

"Facebook is not protecting the victims of police brutality and their loved ones from viral hate, disinformation and racist victim-blaming,” said Fadi Quran, campaign director of Avaaz. “It is outrageous that there are lies still spreading on Facebook about Jacob Blake, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd – by some of the same people who helped organize the attack on our Capitol."

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone said the company routinely removes and labels content that violates its policies. 

"And we did so for the content, pages and groups identified in the Avaaz report," Stone said in an emailed statement. "We remain the only company to partner with more than 80 fact-checking organizations, using AI to scale those fact-checks against millions of duplicate posts across our platforms. There is no playbook for a program like ours, and we’re constantly working to improve."

Only 25 of the 137 posts were no longer available by Jan. 8, the last time Avaaz reviewed them, the organization said. Facebook said they ultimately removed or labeled much of the comment in the Avaaz report.

Nearly half of the disinformation Avaaz investigated had no fact-check labels, only exacerbating the online abuse targeting the relatives of the victims on their public Facebook posts, it added.

One person commented on a post from Blake’s father: “They need to castrate him while they are at it and convict him of the rape he has done don’t feel sorry for him.”

After reviewing the Avaaz research, Rep. Ayanna Pressley called on Congress to hold Facebook accountable.

"Rather than foster a platform to share news and information about systemic racism, Facebook stood by while their platform was co-opted by misinformation campaigns. This new research reveals that Facebook’s negligence has subjected the loved ones of those killed and nearly killed by police to further terror and trauma online," the freshman Democrat from Massachusetts said in a statement to USA TODAY. "As we witnessed earlier this month, when white supremacists violently attacked our Capitol, Facebook’s refusal to take meaningful action has fatal, real world consequences. Facebook has the ability to stop the spread of violent extremism and misinformation on all of its platforms, and a responsibility to do so."

Nationwide protests following Floyd’s death last year drew renewed attention to historic racial inequities, but Facebook has been reckoning with its role in perpetuating systemic racism for much longer.

Black users say they are routinely subjected to racially motivated hate speech and yet are censored by Facebook when they talk about racism. And that harassment only got worse after Floyd’s death and during the 2020 election.

One of the problems, say civil rights activists, is the dearth of underrepresented minorities at Facebook, particularly in positions of influence. Despite repeated pledges to close the racial gap, 3.7% of Facebook's U.S. employees and 3% of senior executives are Black, according to a USA TODAY analysis of 2018 figures, the most recent data available.

The other is the company’s policy of protecting all racial and ethnic groups equally, even if they do not face oppression or marginalization, centuries of systemic racism, civil rights activists have told USA TODAY.

Last week Facebook hired a civil rights executive to help the company curb racial hatred and violence on its platforms.

Civil rights attorney Roy L. Austin Jr. will establish a new civil rights organization inside Facebook, one of the key recommendations of an internal audit of Facebook’s practices released in July that heightened scrutiny of the spread of racism and hate on Facebook and Instagram.