Shareholders Urge Facebook, Twitter to Tackle Online Harassment

By Yoree KohFeaturesDow Jones Newswires

Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc. on Thursday came under fresh fire from shareholders who pressed the social-media companies to do more to combat harassment of all kinds on their platforms.

Arjuna Capital, a boutique investment firm located near Boston, and the New York State Common Retirement Fund co-filed shareholder resolutions at both companies asking about the extent of these problems and how the companies intend to remedy them. Sexual harassment was a leading concern in the resolutions.

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The companies have played an "unfortunate role" in "escalating sexual harassment, hate speech and fake news online," the resolutions say.

Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna Capital, said in a statement that it views sexual harassment online as a threat to women and a danger to shareholder value.

"If users feel unsafe on the platform, they simply won't use it," Ms. Lamb said in a statement.

Facebook and Twitter declined to comment.

For years, the social-media companies had come under occasional fire for inappropriate content ranging from bullying to hate speech and violent images. But public frustration surged over the last year amid evidence that Russians manipulated the platforms by spreading fake news and paying for ads during the 2016 presidential election. Now, after revelations of sexual harassment have rocked industries from entertainment to media to politics, shareholders are debating whether social media plays a role in propagating this kind of behavior.

Twitter found itself in the spotlight last fall when it temporarily suspended actress Rose McGowan's Twitter account. Ms. McGowan, one of the women who alleged sexual misconduct by Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein, had used the platform to call out offenders. Twitter said she posted private phone number in one of her tweets, a violation of the company's privacy policy. The suspension led to an outcry and high-profile female users boycotted the service for a day.

The New York Common Retirement Fund's shares in Facebook are worth about $1.3 billion, while its stake in Twitter is valued at roughly $35 million.

"Social media companies need to protect their customers, themselves and their investors from hate speech and harassment," New York State Comptroller Thomas P. DiNapoli said in a statement. "Investors have a right to know what steps these companies are taking to enforce their terms of service and keep abusive content from fake news to sexual harassment off their platforms."

Arjuna Capital is no stranger to pushing companies to answer for social-justice issues. The firm has pressured tech companies including Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Apple Inc. and Microsoft, to disclose the percentage of female pay to male pay. In October, it co-filed proposals with Twitter, Facebook and Google asking for information about how Russia used their platforms to spread fake news during the 2016 presidential election.

Write to Yoree Koh at yoree.koh@wsj.com

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

January 11, 2018 19:27 ET (00:27 GMT)