Facebook buttons. Editorial Credit: NeONBRAND, Unsplash.
On Monday, Facebook hired its first-ever VP of Civil Rights by bringing on longtime civil rights attorney and advocate Roy L. Austin, Jr. He joins the social media conglomerate from the law firm of Harris, Wiltshire & Grannis LLP, where he was a partner specializing in criminal defense and civil rights law.
Prior to that, Austin completed decades of experience working in federal government. He started his career as an honors trial attorney with the Criminal Section of the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice, was a Senior Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Civil Rights Unit of the DC U.S. Attorney’s Office, a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Department of Justice’s Civil Rights Division, and from 2014 to 2017, worked on the White House Domestic Policy Council as Deputy Assistant to the President for the Office of Urban Affairs, Justice and Opportunity.
Facebook's search for the VP of Civil Rights role has been public since July, when the company published an updated Civil Rights Audit that included the creation of a civil rights leadership role as part of an effort to, "expand its existing accountability structure." According to the audit, Austin's role at the company will, "center around the leader’s ability to help the company proactively identify and address civil rights issues."
This is seen as a crucial hire for a company that has been under fire for its lack of involvement in policing hate speech on its platforms, including Instagram. Hundreds of companies, from Unilever to Coca-Cola to Levi's, pulled advertising from Facebook this summer, while employees staged a virtual “walkout” in part because just 3.7% of Facebook's U.S. employees and 3% of senior executives are Black, according to analysis of 2018 figures.
Austin, who will be hiring and managing a small team, will play a role in changing those internal issues. Based out of Washington, DC, he starts on January 19 and will report to Facebook's General Counsel, Jennifer Newstead.
"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 announcement. "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.”
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