APA CEO Arthur C. Evans Jr., PhD sent a letter (PDF 117KB), to Mark Zuckerberg, founder and CEO of Facebook, on Aug. 2 urging him to recognize the psychological harm caused by hate speech on his platform and to eliminate its spread. An APA press release details the letter.

Citing decades of psychological research, Evans discussed the psychological harm inflicted by hate speech, the consequences on discrimination faced by the targets of such language, and its contribution to the rise of extremism and prejudice. “Facebook’s sharing of hate speech not only traumatizes both the intended victims and observers but may also prompt those who see it to become more prejudiced. By not taking needed corrective action, Facebook is knowingly harming the welfare of consumers, employees, and its shareholders,” Evans wrote before calling on the company to take a leadership role in reversing such harm by eliminating hate speech from the platform.

In particular, the letter cited research by psychologist Ervin Staub, PhD, on the psychology of mass violence and genocide that reveals how hate speech impacts community norms, leading to “increasingly harmful and violent actions.” Evans called on Facebook to take actions such as “establishing and empowering permanent civil rights infrastructure; creating an internal mechanism to automatically flag hateful content; and enabling individuals facing severe hate and harassment to connect with a live Facebook employee.”

The letter was released on the heels of a widely publicized June 29 House Judiciary committee hearing involving Facebook’s market practices, as well as an antitrust investigation into the company. APA’s letter was also submitted for the Judiciary hearing record. Another letter (PDF, 1MB) from 20 state attorneys general was released on Aug. 5, also demanding Facebook take action to stop disinformation and discrimination on its platform. Both letters and the hearing were reported in an Aug. 5 article in the Washington Post.

For more information, contact Aaron Bishop.