She said the “devil” was at her door.
When the Baltimore County Police Department officers arrived at the home of Korryn Gaines on Aug. 1, 2017, she knew she might be killed. Holding her phone in one hand and a shotgun in the other, Gaines figured that her only defense against being killed in front of her five-year-old son Kodi, was sunlight. So Gaines began broadcasting the standoff on Facebook, believing that there was no way cops would kill her live on video.
She was right.
Unbeknownst to Gaines, the Baltimore Police Department had secretly asked Facebook to take down the live video stream. Although Gaines’ video didn’t seem to violate any of their “community rules,” the social media behemoth complied. According to the Baltimore Sun, Facebook did not bother to send a warning to Gaines, nor did they send a message before they took her Facebook profile down. Gaines’ Instagram account (which is also owned by Facebook) also vanished.
Moments after Facebook made Korryn Gaines’ only defense—her social media—disappear, the Baltimore Police Department rushed into her home and shot her to death, with a bullet hitting her five-year-old son in the cheek.
On Thursday, Rashad Robinson, president of Color of Change, met with Facebook’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg at the company’s Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters to discuss a few issues. But the Thursday meeting between Facebook and the country’s “largest online racial justice organization” was not organized out of the goodness of Mark Zuckerberg’s cold, human-like heart. Facebook kinda had to do it, and one of the reasons is because Korryn Gaines started something.
On November 14, the New York Times released a bombshell report that Facebook had hired a right-leaning political firm called the “Definers.” Known for its”opposition research,” the Definers were hired to shape a narrative and do some research on one of Facebook’s longtime critics, the Times reported. But instead of a candidate, Facebook wanted some dirt on an organization. An online organization. The largest one.
Yep. Facebook hired one of the best right-wing firms in the world to target Color of Change.
Zuckerberg and Kaplan said it had no idea about the Definers project and the reports said the campaign was headed by Facebook lobbyist Joel Kaplan. The Times noted that the Definers sprinkled racist and anti-Semitic news reports around the internet focused on organizations like Color of Change because their beef goes way back to Korryn Gaines.
Following Gaines’ death, a list of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, MoveOn.org and Color of Change sent a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding that Facebook explain its actions and clarify its policies on working with law enforcement.
Noting that Facebook’s decision to cut Gaines’ feed was “not an isolated incident,” the letter also called out Facebook for the removal of the footage from the police shooting that left Philando Castile dead. Facebook claimed it was a “technical glitch” that coincidentally happened as soon as the video reached one million views, but the organizations disagreed.
“In light of these recent events,” the correspondence said, “now is a crucial moment to demonstrate that Facebook as an institution does not silence individuals at the request of the police.”
Color of Change had been pushing the platform to protect black activists since 2015, when the organization discovered that hate groups were using Facebook to publicize the names and addresses of black activists. The civil rights group urged Facebook to conduct a “civil rights audit” to explain and change policies that helped the company work with law enforcement officers to pull profiles and monitor groups like Black Lives Matter. The civil rights audit also sought to curb Facebook’s seeming apathy about false news reports and online right-wing extremist groups who doxxed activists, threatened people of color and harassed online users.
Facebook agreed to the civil rights audit in 2017 and even met with Color of Change a few times. Then that whole thing happened where the New York Times reported that Russian influencers reached 126 million Facebook users. Also, there was a Facebook voter suppression thing. And the white supremacist thing. Then, the scandal about Cambridge Analytica’s use of Facebook data broke. Then Zuckerberg and Sandberg went on vacation. Then Zuckerberg was on the phone with his mama, he’ll call you right back and, well ...
The civil rights audit never happened.
And then the New York Times report came out. Then, on November 27, Mark Luckie, a former employee of the thumbs up company, went public with an internal post describing an anti-black culture at the media giant which marginalizes black employees and is dangerous to black Facebook users, by tolerating hundreds of secret white supremacist Facebook groups who harass people of color.
“Black people are far outpacing other groups on the platform in a slew of engagement metrics,” Luckie noted, before pointing out the fact that black people are having less than positive experiences on the site.
Explaining how black Facebook users believe their posts are targeted for removal, Luckie even admitted that working at Facebook is no fun if you’re black.
“Facebook’s disenfranchisement of black people on the platform mirrors the marginalization of its black employees,” Luckie wrote.
“In my time at the company, I’ve heard far too many stories from black employees of a colleague or manager calling them ‘hostile’ or ‘aggressive’ for simply sharing their thoughts in a manner not dissimilar from their non-Black team members. A few black employees have reported being specifically dissuaded by their managers from becoming active in the [internal] Black@ group or doing ‘Black stuff,’ even if it happens outside of work hours. Too many black employees can recount stories of being aggressively accosted by campus security beyond what was necessary.”
So Rashad Robinson thought it was time to meet with Zuckerberg and determine its beef with Color of Change and black people in general. He sat down and wrote a scathing letter basically asking Zuckerberg to say that racist stuff to his face.
“I would like an opportunity to meet in person to discuss last week’s New York Times article and revelations that Facebook hired a right-wing communications firm to attack Color Of Change’s credibility,” Robinson’s letter began. “No matter how innocuously you may choose to represent it publicly, pushing the Jewish ‘puppet masters’ trope was intentional,” Robinson wrote, before concluding:
I won’t mince words. Facebook has violated its most fundamental mission of building human connection, as well as the trust placed in it by billions of people. The tactics Facebook has employed descend to the most damaging depths of politics. You employed hatred and fear for power and profit. A just path forward will require more than crisis response; Facebook has to deliver on its promise to earn back the trust of users.
While Facebook likes to paint itself as a simple little tech startup that allows people to connect, Color of Change and others have noticed how the company has gobbled up online real estate and become one of the most important communication tools in the world.
“They have 2.2 billion users on their platform,” said Brandi Collins, Color of Change’s Senior Campaign Director Media, Democracy and Economic Justice. “That’s larger than any country in the world. It has as many adherents to it as Christianity. And they are shaping political discourse in a way that has never been done before and absent pools of accountability.”
Collins noted that the online giant enjoys a lack of oversight rarely afforded to entities with a reach as large as Facebook’s.
“If we see politicians we don’t like, theoretically, voter suppression aside, we can vote them out,” Collins told The Root. “We can’t vote Facebook off the planet. There are too many people who depend on them for daily communication.”
Color of Change’s Robinson went into Thursday’s meeting with four demands:
- Immediately fire lobbyist and VP of Global Public Policy, Joel Kaplan: Discontinue its relationships with the PR firms who worked with Facebook to delegitimize Color of Change.
- Release all of the opposition research documents: Make the files public that were compiled on Color Of Change and others so that the public can understand how far Facebook went to undermine civil rights work.
- Release the data on voter suppression attempts. In an October 15th statement, Facebook announced updates in the process for reporting voter suppression and voter manipulation. Given the revelations about how the company handled 2016 election interference, a full and public disclosure is required. If the company does not comply, House Democrats should subpoena the records.
- Commit to a timeline for a public release of the civil rights audit: Take meaningful steps to address the harms raised. Explain Facebook rules, and hire an accountability person to make sure these plans are implemented.
Facebook has also quietly donated a “shit-ton” of money to conservative political action committees and Republicans like Mississippi Senator and public hanging aficionado Cindy Hyde-Smith. (To be fair, Facebook did ask Hyde-Smith to return their donation ... one day before she won her election runoff.)
According to Collins, if not for diligent journalists and the media, Facebook probably wouldn’t have agreed to the meeting, adding that additional oversight is needed but politicians are afraid of the giant company. She also noted the threat that Facebook presents is far more urgent for people of color.
“They’re playing a dangerous game with our lives and our speech,” Collins said. “And it allows for white nationalists and fascist governments to game the system. And that’s something Facebook needs to take seriously.”
“In yesterday’s meeting, Sheryl Sandberg made an apology to Color Of Change for the anti-Semitic and anti-black smears orchestrated by Definers Public Affairs,” read a statement from Robinson after Thursday’s meeting concluded.
In the meeting, the parties hammered out an agreement to move further with the civil rights audit and promised an update by the end of the year. Color of Change also said Sandberg vowed Facebook would implement changes necessary to address the findings of the audit and “evaluate its policies and end practices that leave black people, communities of color and other users in harm’s way and subject to hate speech and other forms of discrimination.”
Facebook has not responded to The Root’s request for comment.
Even though Gaines’ family was awarded $37 million dollars in damages, Corporal Royce Ruby, who is white, remains on the Baltimore County Police Force after shooting and killing the 23-year-old. Prosecutors deemed the shooting justified based on Ruby’s testimony.
Ruby’s account is that Gaines did not point her weapon at a police officer during the six-hour standoff. But the moment Facebook and Instagram shut off her feed, at that exact moment, Gaines—with her son beside her—lowered her gun and aimed it at the cops, so he killed her.
And Ruby contends that absolutely no one saw this because he didn’t have a body camera and ... well ... Korryn Gaines wasn’t on Facebook so there’s no way we’ll never know.
It turns out, Korryn was right.
The devil was at her door.