Time to Change the Terms

Benton Foundation

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Digital Beat

Time to Change the Terms

Adrianne B. Furniss

We are asking for corporate policies to change.

The Benton Foundation is joining 40 civil and human rights organizations that believe that online companies need to do more to combat hateful conduct on their platforms.   

We are asking that these companies adopt corporate policies to prohibit hateful activities on their platforms. They should make it clear what type of conduct is and is not permitted on their platform and remove any U.S. clients that violate those corporate policies.

Many of the world’s most prominent firms today operate as “platforms” that facilitate interactions among different groups of users. [Think search engines, social networks, e-commerce, and other sites.] Online platforms have the legal authority to edit and curate their platforms from time to time, often by removing content they or their users find offensive. For the most part, many of these companies have taken a hands-off approach towards identifying and removing offensive content. But recently, pressure from the public, policymakers, and advertisers has caused platforms to be more proactive in identifying and removing such content.

Although Benton has always championed free speech, today we draw a line. We oppose activities that incite or engage in violence, threats, intimidation, harassment, defamation, or illegality targeting an individual or group based on their actual or perceived race, color, religion, national origin, ethnicity, immigration status, gender, gender identity, sexual orientation, or disability.

Inciting or engaging in violence crosses a line. It is undemocratic and unpatriotic.

That’s a mouthful, so let me try to be plainer. The old adage about “sticks and stones” may be true, but words do matter. Violence, threats, intimidation, harassment, defamation, and targeting cross a line to impose will instead of reason, to give one’s interests advantage by denying another person’s safety. Peace rests on the inherent rights and dignities of every individual.

Benton views these actions as undemocratic: they close off the exchange of ideas and narrow the range of opinions and views to which we are all exposed. And these actions are unpatriotic: when some are silenced, we are all weakened.

Some platform companies have made steps in the right direction, but the industry needs to do more to protect voices from underrepresented communities and combat the spread of hate. Corporate policies should have clear terms of services and must be transparent when it comes to rights of appeal. And these companies must enforce these policies.

Online platforms provide the world with useful opportunities to connect. But they are also providing a forum for too many groups that spread hate, fear, and abuse. The deadly neo-Nazi march in Charlottesville, Virginia, was organized via Facebook, PayPal, and Discord. During the 2016 presidential elections, Russia carried out an aggressive campaign to influence U.S. voters and undermine our democracy by spreading hateful messages through major online platforms, exacerbating racial, ethnic, religious, and gender divides. It is well past time to end this.

Diversity is one of the foundational values we embrace at Benton. The varied voices and perspectives we have in this country are part of our strength even though some may try to use our differences to divide us. To bridge these divides, everyone must feel safe – both online and in person – to express the challenges individuals and their communities face.  Let’s get rid of these hateful activities so we can get back to the business of working together to expand opportunity for everyone.

As our civic discourse increasingly moves online, we are asking that no one be quieted based on how they look, where they come from, how they worship, who they love, or the limitations they are dealing with. I hope you will join us.

Adrianne B. Furniss is the Executive Director of the Benton Foundation.


Change The Terms Organizations

Free Press

Southern Poverty Law Center

Center for American Progress

Color of Change

National Hispanic Media Coalition

Lawyer's Committee on Civil Rights Under Law

18 Million Rising

Advocates for Youth

African American Ministers in Action

Arkansas United

Benton Foundation

CASA de Maryland

Center for Community Change

Center for Media Justice

Center for Victims of Torture

Church World Service

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Consumer Action

Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)

Define American

Deplatform Hate

Emgage Action

Faith in Public Life

Franciscan Action Network (FAN)


Illinois Coalition of Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR)

Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy Coalition (MIRA)

Media Mobilizing Project

MPower Change

Muslim Advocates

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Law Center (NILC)

National Urban League


Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN)

Services, Immigrant Rights, and Education Network (SIREN)

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

The Arc of the United States

United Church of Christ, Office of Communication, Inc.

Western States Center

Benton, a non-profit, operating foundation, believes that communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities to bridge our divides. Our goal is to bring open, affordable, high-capacity broadband to all people in the U.S. to ensure a thriving democracy.

© Benton Foundation 2018. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

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Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Foundation
727 Chicago Avenue
Evanston, IL 60202
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By Adrianne B. Furniss.