Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech

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Inside Facebook’s Secret Rulebook for Global Political Speech

The Facebook employees who meet to set the guidelines, mostly young engineers and lawyers, try to distill highly complex issues into simple yes-or-no rules. Then the company outsources much of the actual post-by-post moderation to companies that enlist largely unskilled workers, many hired out of call centers.

Those moderators, at times relying on Google Translate, have mere seconds to recall countless rules and apply them to the hundreds of posts that dash across their screens each day. When is a reference to “jihad,” for example, forbidden? When is a “crying laughter” emoji a warning sign?

Moderators express frustration at rules they say don’t always make sense and sometimes require them to leave up posts they fear could lead to violence. “You feel like you killed someone by not acting,” one said, speaking on the condition of anonymity because he had signed a nondisclosure agreement.

Facebook executives say they are working diligently to rid the platform of dangerous posts.

“It’s not our place to correct people’s speech, but we do want to enforce our community standards on our platform,” said Sara Su, a senior engineer on the News Feed. “When you’re in our community, we want to make sure that we’re balancing freedom of expression and safety.”

Monika Bickert, Facebook’s head of global policy management, said that the primary goal was to prevent harm, and that to a great extent, the company had been successful. But perfection, she said, is not possible.

“We have billions of posts every day, we’re identifying more and more potential violations using our technical systems,” Ms. Bickert said. “At that scale, even if you’re 99 percent accurate, you’re going to have a lot of mistakes.”

When is it support for terrorism? Is “martyr” a forbidden word? Moderators are given guides to help them decide.

The Facebook guidelines do not look like a handbook for regulating global politics. They consist of dozens of unorganized PowerPoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets with bureaucratic titles like “Western Balkans Hate Orgs and Figures” and “Credible Violence: Implementation standards.”

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