Facebook has hired Roy Austin, an Obama administration veteran and a member of President Joe Biden’s transition team, as the social media company’s vice president of civil rights and deputy general counsel.
Austin had been a civil rights prosecutor and served as a Department of Justice (DOJ) supervisor before becoming a deputy assistant to President Barack Obama in 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 isn’t clear what Austin’s specific responsibilities will be at Facebook; the company didn’t immediately respond to a request by The Epoch Times 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,” Jennifer Newstead, Facebook’s general counsel, said 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, who was the Biden transition’s general counsel, is his new White House staff secretary. Jeffrey Zients—Biden’s coronavirus czar—served on Facebook’s board of directors from 2018 to 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 amid 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, who is to be based in Washington, was to start his role at Facebook on Jan. 19, 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 specter 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, 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 people on the list such as populist commentator Paul Joseph Watson and conservative activist Laura Loomer.
Facebook quietly responded to backlash by removing 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.