Shareholder Proposals Come As More Questions Are Raised About How These Platforms Were Used to Interfere With the Election and Promote Hate Speech
Shareholders in Facebook, Google and Twitter with assets worth more than $25 billion have filed proposals with the companies in the last week demanding answers and accountability related to foreign interference in the 2016 presidential election, as well as threats posed by the growth of hate speech and disinformation on the three platforms. The filings come in advance of congressional testimony later today from the three companies.
“Like Congress and the American public, shareholders in these companies have serious questions and concerns about how these platforms were used and abused during the 2016 election. The investors, through these filings, intend to play a critically important role in holding Facebook, Google and Twitter accountable for what happens on their platforms,” said Michael Connor, Executive Director of Open MIC, a non-profit that works with shareholders of media and technology companies to promote openness, equity, privacy, and diversity, and worked with the filers.
Research from Open MIC earlier this year highlighted how all three social media companies have grown from their origins as technology platforms into new roles as “brokers of content and truth on a global scale.” Open MIC recommended at the time that the companies take a number of steps to regularly assess and report on the impact of their products and services. “Their failure to do that has hurt the companies a lot,” Connor said.
The filings at the social media platforms include:
Proposals to Facebook, Alphabet (parent of Google) and Twitter filed by Arjuna Capital, and co-filed at Facebook by the Office of the Illinois State Treasurer, call the companies’ response to revelations following the 2016 election “insufficient.” In all three, the shareholders cite their concerns about the inability of the companies to proactively address these issues, and the risk that poses to the long-term value of the companies. The proposals request that the three companies issue reports “on the major global content management controversies… reviewing governance oversight and policies to assess the ethical, legal, and reputational risks of content disseminated on its platform.”
A second proposal to Facebook – which addresses multiple risks to the company – filed by Park Foundation, requests that Facebook examine the merits of establishing a Risk Oversight Committee. The proposal states that shareholders are concerned “Facebook’s technological advances and scale appear to be significantly challenging the ability to understand its impact on society and may be creating numerous financial risks which could present material challenges to the company and its shareholders.” The shareholders also express a “growing concern that Facebook’s Board lacks a strategic approach to risk,” which could be addressed by a Risk Oversight Committee.
Facebook, Google and Twitter, scheduled to go before Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday, have taken steps in recent days toward increasing the oversight of political advertising on their platforms. “These actions, while welcome, are an example of ‘too little, too late,’” said Connor. “Now is the time for the social media companies to step up their game by accepting responsibility and providing greater accountability.”
Michael Khoo, UpShift Strategies, firstname.lastname@example.org, 202-669-7911