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07.21.2020

On July 8, 2020, , Relman Colfax and civil rights and civil liberties leader Laura Murphy publicly released a final report regarding their Civil Rights Audit of Facebook’s policies and practices. The Audit—which proceeded with Facebook’s cooperation—began in 2018, at the behest and encouragement of the civil rights community and some members of Congress. It was intended to help the company identify, prioritize, and implement sustained and comprehensive improvements to the way it impacts civil rights.

A first preliminary audit report was released in December 2018, followed by a second update in July 2019, which identified areas of increasing concern. The final July 2020 report included analyses of several important areas, including: (1) creating an internal civil rights accountability structure; (2) the 2020 elections and census; (3) content moderation and enforcement; (4) diversity and inclusion; (5) advertising practices; (6) algorithmic bias; and (7) privacy.

The final Audit garnered significant press attention from major publications, with The Washington Post observing that “[t]he Facebook-commissioned report potentially carries more weight than other criticisms on the grounds of civil rights because the social network granted the auditors extensive access to its systems and executives, and it encompassed feedback from over 100 civil rights groups. However, it provides no guarantee that Facebook will make major changes to its policies or practices.”  In her own statement about the Audit, Facebook Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg thanked Megan Cacace and the firm, noting that “[t]his two-year journey has had a profound effect on the way we think about our impact on the world,” and “[a]s hard as it has been to have our shortcomings exposed by experts, it has undoubtedly been a really important process for our company. We would urge companies in our industry and beyond to do the same.”

Since its establishment in 1999, Relman Colfax has maintained a robust civil rights counseling practice assisting financial institutions, Internet- and technology-based companies, housing providers, local governments, and nonprofits. The firm helps companies manage risk and develop best-in-class guidelines, practices, and systems for complying with federal civil rights laws and embracing civil rights concepts.

The team from Relman Colfax was led by Megan Cacace and included Stephen Hayes, Eric Sublett, Alexa Milton, Tanya Sehgal, and Zachary Best.

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