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Governance

N.Y. State Common, Arjuna Capital target Facebook, Twitter to address harassment, elections

New York State Common Retirement Fund, Albany, and Arjuna Capital filed shareholder proposals at Facebook Inc. and Twitter Inc., urging the companies to address the issues of sexual harassment, election interference, "fake news" and hate speech.

"Both resolutions call on the social media giants to produce a detailed report on the scope of sexual harassment on their platforms and the remedies either in place already or contemplated for the future," said a news release from Arjuna Capital. "Under the heading of content governance, the resolutions also address the topics of 'fake news,' election interference, violence and hate speech."

Amy Borrus, deputy director of the Council of Institutional Investors, previously told Pensions & Investments she expected the series of news reports on sexual harassment allegations in 2017 would give gender-related issues a boost in the 2018 proxy season.

Natasha Lamb, managing partner at Arjuna, said in a telephone news conference Thursday that these are the first shareholder proposals to request detailed reports on the scope of sexual harassment abuses online. Sexual harassment online is a "real and pervasive" threat for women and a danger to long-term shareholder value, Ms. Lamb said. Users that don't feel safe on these platforms are not going to use them, she said.

During the same news conference, Michael Connor, executive director of Open MIC, said that Facebook and Twitter are "playing whack-a-mole with (these) issues." When an issue comes up, they "take a stab at fixing it;" they are not addressing these issues in a comprehensive way like investors and stakeholders expect, he said. Open Mic is a non-profit that focuses on corporate accountability issues at technology companies.

Fake news-related proposals filed by Arjuna at Facebook and Alphabet Inc., the parent company of Google, for the 2017 proxy season were defeated by a majority of shareholders.

The $201.3 billion New York State Common Retirement Fund has about 1.5 million shares in Twitter valued at $35.6 million as of Dec. 31, and 6.7 million shares in Facebook valued at nearly $1.2 billion, said Patrick Doherty, director of corporate governance in New York state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli's office, during the news conference. Mr. DiNapoli is sole trustee of the Common Retirement Fund.

A spokeswoman for Twitter declined to comment. A spokesman for Facebook could not immediately be reached for comment.