Skip to Content

Secret Border Patrol Facebook Posts Immediately Test the Social Network’s Day-Old Hate Speech Policies

"New York City, USA - August 25, 2013: Close-up view of 10 facebook notifications on a smart phone. Posts to a secret group for border patrol agents uncovered by ProPublica are already testing day-old Facebook hate speech rules."New York City, USA - August 25, 2013: Close-up view of 10 facebook notifications on a smart phone. Posts to a secret group for border patrol agents uncovered by ProPublica are already testing day-old Facebook hate speech rules.
"New York City, USA - August 25, 2013: Close-up view of 10 facebook notifications on a smart phone. Posts to a secret group for border patrol agents uncovered by ProPublica are already testing day-old Facebook hate speech rules.

Less than a day after Facebook revealed new hate speech policies and a civil rights task force on Sunday, the company landed in hot water again on Monday, after ProPublica revealed a secret group of border patrol agents using the social network to share lewd photos and posts about migrants and Latino members of Congress.

In ProPublica's startling report, the publication exposes the group titled "I’m 10-15," which consists of 9,500 current and previous border patrol agents sharing inappropriate photos and other content. One comment on a posted photo of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D–N.Y.) and Rep. Veronica Escobar (D–Tex.) shows agents encouraging other agents to throw burritos at the two public officials.

In an especially graphic post, ProPublica reports, a member of the group posted a photoshopped image of a woman resembling Ocasio-Cortez appearing to engage in sex with President Donald Trump. In another, a photo of the drowned Salvadoran migrant Oscar Martinez Ramirez and his daughter, the poster suggests that the image was faked or edited.

In response to ProPublica's reporting, U.S. Customs and Border Patrol Carla Provost said, "These posts are completely inappropriate and contrary to the honor and integrity I see—and expect—from our agents day in and day out. Any employees found to have violated our standards of conduct will be held accountable."

Facebook told Fortune that it's working with the federal authorities in their investigation of the group. "Our Community Standards apply across Facebook, including in secret Groups," a Facebook spokesperson noted.

The secret border patrol Facebook group is a harsh dose of reality up against the rule changes for content announced by Facebook on Sunday. Following a 27-page civil rights audit by civil rights leader Laura Murphy, a former ACLU legislative director, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg laid out changes the social network would enact to reduce discrimination on the platform.

As a part of the plan, Facebook says it is doubling down on banning white nationalist speech. For example, ideas that promote white separatist ideology will be banned, even if the words "white nationalism" or "white separatism" aren't used in the post.

In addition, Facebook is barring marketers from choosing who can see ads based on race, religion, and sexual orientation, the results of settling a lawsuit with the ACLU in March. Facebook also announced it will remove age, gender, and zip codes from advertisers' filter options.

A company spokesperson also disclosed that ads running on Facebook-owned Instagram will follow Facebook's new anti-discrimination guidelines. The company made no mention regarding the ads that will run on their messaging app. WhatsApp's Status feature is expected to arrive in 2020. In the past, fake news on WhatsApp has sullied the elections of countries like Nigeria, India, and Brazil.

Changes are also in the works at Facebook for issues including voter suppression and acts of violence. According to Facebook, the company will rally its engineering, data science, policy, product, and legal teams to combat voter suppression tactics—a problem the social network has traditionally avoided owning up to. If a group organizes an event in hopes of harming or harassing a group of individuals, for example, their posts will be banned.

While the audit offers a solid guideline for the company, the only authoritative body that has actual say over what Facebook does is Facebook. In a press release, members of Color of Change, a racial justice organization, simultaneously applauded the social network's efforts, while also calling for governmental oversight.

“This latest update to the civil rights audit reflects a meaningful reversal in Facebook leadership’s commitment to making the platform safe for all users," said Color of Change's president Rashad Robinson. The group also noted, however, that, "outside intervention from government regulators will be necessary to ensure civil rights become an operational priority at Facebook."

But Color of Change isn't the only organization calling for government regulation of Facebook—so is Facebook.

In his 2018 congressional hearing, Mark Zuckerberg said government policing of Facebook is unavoidable. "I think it is inevitable that there will need to be some regulation," Zuckerberg said. The CEO was open to the idea of government regulation but was wary of the amount of oversight his site would see. In a Washington Post op-ed from March 2019, Zuckerberg again asked for government regulation of Facebook.

Sunday's audit of Facebook was the company's second one overall. May 2018's audit by Murphy also put the site under a microscope. Facebook released an update last December, revealing that the company made adjustments in regards to misinformation on the service and voter suppression against people of color.

With each passing audit, Facebook makes it clear it is serious about addressing the issues, and that there's also more work to be done—though typically those revelations don't spill out in such quick succession. Still, secret groups like the one belonging to border patrol agents shows how hard the social network is to police.

According to the Facebook, the site plans to "continue listening to feedback from the civil rights community and address the important issues they’ve raised" to benefit everyone.

More must-read stories from Fortune:

—Trump’s MAGA rallies cost big bucks—and cities foot the bills

Black women voters will be central to the 2020 election, experts predict

—Can Trump fire Fed Chair Jerome Powell? What history tells us

—Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s message for democrats after “boy bye” tweet

—What you need to know about the upcoming 2020 primary debatesGet up to speed on your morning commute with Fortune’s CEO Daily newsletter.