Facebook Reveals Troubling Takedown Rules for Hate Speech and More
During the first three months of 2018, Facebook pulled or attached warnings to nearly 30 million posts. This affected posts with sexual or violent images, terrorist propaganda and hate speech. Within the past year, Facebook disabled 1 billion fake accounts.
Facebook took action against 2.5 million pieces of hate speech content during the first three months of this year. That is a 56 increase over October-December. Over the last two months, on average, they deleted around 66,000 posts reported as hate speech per week.
How does the company decide what to pull? What criteria do they use? Conservatives feel a growing concern that Facebook’s standards are unfair and wrongly enforced. The company’s run by those on the left. Most of its employees are on the left. Some evidence suggests that the company censors right-leaning and Christian content.
Now We Know, Maybe
Now Facebook has told us. Kind of. The company published 25 pages outlining what its standards are for taking down inappropriate material. Facebook also issued an 81-page “Community Standards Enforcement Report” detailing recent actions taken.
Facebook admitted that its content reviewers made the wrong call on 22 of them.
The policies won’t necessarily make Facebook’s treatment of conservatives and Christians more fair. CEO Mark Zuckerberg admitted earlier this year, “We won’t prevent all mistakes or abuse, but we currently make too many errors enforcing our policies and preventing misuse of our tools.”
ProPublica asked Facebook about how it handled 49 posts that might be deemed offensive. Facebook admitted that its content reviewers made the wrong call on 22 of them. Several people as well as the Anti-Defamation League asked Facebook to take down a page called Jewish Ritual Murder. Their requests were ignored. Only after ProPublica asked Facebook about the page was it taken down. The website Facebook Jailed tracks unfairness in Facebook’s takedown policies.
Let’s review the policies. They’re not completely reassuring.
Facebook bans “hate speech.” No conservative will object to that. Except … what exactly is hate speech? The definition has to be subjective. The company admits, “There is no universally accepted answer for when something crosses the line.” It also claims that some hate speech is “obvious.” That includes material that “degrades or dehumanizes people.”
Facebook defines hate speech “as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disability or disease. We also provide some protections for immigration status.”
But how does Facebook define “attack”? It defines attacks as “violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”
Facebook’s VP of Global Product Management Monika Bickert gave reporters last month the example, “Saying ‘members of this religion are evil.’” Facebook provides others examples: “A post that calls all people of a certain race ‘violent animals’ or describes people of a certain sexual orientation as ‘disgusting.'” Facebook bans certain criticism of the refugees settling in Europe: “dehumanizing references to them — such as comparisons to animals, to filth or to trash.”
It sounds all right. Here’s the problem, though: Many people on the left believe traditional morality is dehumanizing. They believe it declares certain people inferior and that it excludes or segregates them. They think that just saying what Christians have always believe is a form of hate speech.
For example, we reject homosexual practice and same-sex marriage. We believe a person’s body determines what his sex is, not what gender he prefers. We think the truth helps people. Not telling them when we should hurts them. But to many liberals, saying “marriage is a relation of one man and one woman” is too cruel to be allowed. It sounds like hate speech to them.
In other words, Facebook’s rules could easily be used against Christians who disapprove of behavior that violates Biblical principles. Although Christians don’t believe those who engage in sin are inferior, Facebook could choose to see it that way. It could also be used to ban speech in favor of separating the genders. Facebook removed a post that said “Men really are trash.” It was a “gender based attack.”
Facebook also bans “cruel or insensitive” material. For the same reasons, this could be used very broadly to restrict speech liberals dislike. Any speech someone claims makes them feel bad can be called “cruel” or “insensitive.” Or both.
Facebook defines a hate group as “Any association of three or more people that is organized under a name, sign, or symbol and that has an ideology, statements, or physical actions that attack individuals based on characteristics, including race, religious affiliation, nationality, ethnicity, gender, sex, sexual orientation, serious disease or disability.”
Facebook bans users from posting symbols linked to hate groups. They cannot praise the groups or their actions. They can’t raise help for them. This could be used to stop efforts to fundraise for a Christian group because of its views on LGBT issues.
What’s the problem here? There are some vile hate groups out there. The problem is how Facebook might define a hate group. The Southern Poverty Law Center has labeled many Christian groups as hate groups. For example, the activist group ProPublica wonders why the Christian Action Network still has a Facebook page. SPLC has labeled it a hate group.
Some speech is OK for some users but not others. LGBT members can use rude words to describe each other, but someone else using the terms in a negative sense cannot.
Violence and Crime
Facebook bans graphic violence. From January through March, Facebook took action on 3.4 million posts for this reason. It bans “Still images depicting the violent death of a person or people.” This was likely what was used to stop Christians from running ads about the Passion of the Christ.
Facebook says it does “not allow people to depict criminal activity.” This is concerning. What if you want to post a video of violence against the right or Christians? YouTube is already censoring videos like that. A video of an abortion supporter pushing a pro-life campaigner for Ireland’s Save the 8th was placed on restricted mode. Only adults could view it.
On the other hand, Facebook permits nude photos “as a form of protest.” This allows some photos of topless women.
Facebook is building out a way for people to appeal their decisions. They are expanding their safety and security team from 10,000 to 20,000 employees. It includes content reviewers.
Should Facebook Censor?
Should Facebook be censoring speech? Can it decide what is hate speech? Facebook is a tech company. But is it also a media company? Bickert claims, “We are not creating content and we’re not curating content.” However, by choosing what Facebook allows and doesn’t allow, that could be curating.
It is concerning that Facebook has so much control over what type of content is allowed. While it is not free speech issue per se because Facebook is a private company, so much speech takes place there now, Facebook’s vast control cannot be ignored.
Follow Rachel on Twitter at Rach_IC.