Austin used to serve as civil rights prosecutor and supervisor in the Department of Justice (DOJ) before becoming a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity in 2014. In 2017, he went into private practice as a criminal defense and civil rights attorney at Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis. In November, Biden named him as one of the volunteers on the Agency Review Team for the DOJ in his transition.
It’s not clear what will be Austin’s specific responsibilities at Facebook. The company didn’t respond to a request for further details and an attempt to reach Austin for comment was unsuccessful.
“I am delighted to welcome Roy to Facebook as our VP of Civil Rights. Roy has proved throughout his career that he is a passionate and principled advocate for civil rights—whether it is in the courtroom or the White House,” said Facebook General Counsel Jennifer Newstead in a Jan. 11 release.
“I know he will bring the same wisdom, integrity, and dedication to Facebook. It’s hard to imagine anyone better qualified to help us strengthen and advance civil rights on our platform and in our company.”
Austin’s appointment underscores the closeness of Facebook to the Biden administration.
Former Facebook associate general counsel Jessica Hertz was the Biden transition’s general counsel and is his new White House staff secretary. Jeffrey Zients—Biden’s coronavirus czar—used to serve on Facebook’s board of directors in 2018-2020. Austin Lin, a former program manager at Facebook, was on one of Biden’s agency review teams before reportedly being tapped for a deputy role at White House’s Office of Management and Administration. Erskine Bowles, a former Facebook board member, reportedly advised the transition team.
Hertz, Zients, and Lin used to hold roles in the Obama administration. Bowles served as President Bill Clinton’s Chief of Staff.
Facebook chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, gave $500 million to election officials ahead of the 2020 election for measures such as ballot drop boxes and mail-in voting described as tools to make voting safer amidst the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus pandemic. The grants violated election laws and were distributed unevenly, favoring Democrat-heavy areas, according to The Amistad Project of the Thomas More Society, a constitutional litigation organization.
Austin was to start his role at Facebook on Jan. 19, based in Washington, D.C., the company said.
“I am excited to join Facebook at this moment when there is a national and global awakening happening around civil rights,” Austin said in the release.
“Technology plays a role in nearly every part of our lives, and it’s important that it be used to overcome the historic discrimination and hate which so many underrepresented groups have faced, rather than to exacerbate it. I could not pass up the opportunity to join a company whose products are used by so many and which impacts the civil rights and liberties of billions of people, in order to help steer a better way forward.”
His referral to “underrepresented groups” raises the ghost of political bias, as the underlying reasoning has been tied to tech companies enforcing their content rules unevenly.
Facebook moderators were told, for instance, that prohibited “Hate Speech” against certain groups was to be left alone under some circumstances as long as it aligned with the company’s agenda, according to a 2018 memo to moderators working at Cognizant, a firm that at the time contracted with Facebook to shoulder part of the content policing.
“Anything that is DELETE per our Hate Speech policies, but is intended to raise awareness for Pride/LGBTQ” was to be temporarily allowed, the post stated, specifying that “this may occur especially in terms of attacking straight white males.”
In 2019, Facebook updated its policy to allow “threats that could lead to death” against those on the company’s list of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.”
Aside from groups such as the Ku Klux Klan and individuals tied to Nazism, Facebook also placed on the list people such as populist commentator Paul Joseph Watson and conservative activist Laura Loomer.
After backlash, Facebook quietly removed the exception from the publicly available version of its policy, but this change was never communicated to its content moderators, and, in practice, the exception remained in place, according to Zach McElroy, who used to work as a Facebook moderator at Cognizant.
Facebook isn’t the only tech company that seems to interpret its own policies unevenly.
Google tweaked its products to promote what the company considered the interests of “historically marginalized” groups, according to insider documents and recordings.
The approach aligns with the tenets of the quasi-Marxist critical theory, which divides society into oppressors and the historically oppressed based on characteristics such as race and gender along the lines of Marxism’s class division.