The $192 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund (NYSCRF) and activist investor Arjuna Capital announced shareholder proposals calling for Facebook and Twitter to better monitor content on their respective platforms, specifically content regarding sexual harassment, fake news, and hate speech.
“Sexual harassment online is a threat to women and a danger to long-term shareholder value. If users feel unsafe on the platform, they simply won’t use it. In the wake of the #MeToo movement, women are no longer putting up with what has been the status quo for far too long,” Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital and lead-filer of the proposals, said in a statement, citing a May 2017 article in Elle magazine regarding sexual harassment perpetuated on Facebook as well a mass of women boycotting Twitter in October for the same reason. “Now is the time to take social media companies to task for failing to effectively govern content policy.
In both proposals, titled reports on “Content Governance,” the funds address various incidents involving the social media platforms and the aforementioned issues, such as Twitter claiming to prohibit “the promotion of hate speech globally,” yet September 2017 saw ads run on the platform designed to target more than 50 million users that would respond to racial slurs. Another issue noted was the way both platforms handled content regarding Russia’s reported interference during the 2016 US presidential election.
“Social media companies need to protect their customers, themselves, and their investors from hate speech and harassment,” New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli said in a statement. “Investors have a right to know what steps these companies are taking to enforce their terms of service and keep abusive content from fake news to sexual harassment off their platforms.”
This follows the actions taken earlier in the week by the $221.7 billion California State Teacher’s Retirement System’s (CalSTRS) and hedge fund Jana Partners LLC, where the two entities pushed for Apple to offer parents tools and solutions for their children becoming addicted to the tech giant’s iPhone and other electronic products.
“If CEOs like Mark Zuckerberg and Jack Dorsey are serious about addressing online sexual harassment, hate speech, and fake news, they should stop playing whack-a-mole and develop a comprehensive approach to addressing the problems on their platforms,” Michael Connor, executive director of the non-profit organization Open MIC, which works with investors on media and technology-related issues. “Investors and other stakeholders want to see evidence that companies like Facebook and Twitter are going to turn vague promises into concrete plans to protect the people who use their products.”
With the rapid growth of reports on sexual harassment, fake news, hate speech, and other problematic trends coming to light in 2017—both online and offline, it appears as though 2018 may be the year institutional investors step in to try and put an end to these issues.
“Both Facebook and Twitter need to demonstrate how they plan to prevent violations of their terms of service agreements and hold users accountable. To date, actions have been inadequate,” Lamb said.