Facebook's global enforcement against hate speech results in seemingly harmful outcomes for potentially vulnerable groups.
Summary: Facebook has struggled to moderate "hate speech" over the years, resulting in it receiving steady criticism not only from users, but from government officials around the world. Part of this struggle is due to the nature of the term "hate speech" itself, which is often vaguely-defined. These definitions can vary from country to country, adding to the confusion and general difficulty of moderating user content.
Facebook's application of local laws to moderate "hate speech" has resulted in collateral damage and the silencing of voices that such laws are meant to protect. In the United States, there is no law against "hate speech," but Facebook is still trying to limit the amount of abusive content on its site as advertisers flee and politicians continue to apply pressure.
Facebook moderators use a set of internal guidelines to determine what is or isn't hate speech. Unfortunately for many users, the guidelines -- which they never saw before ProPublica published them -- result in some unexpected moderation decisions.
Users wondered why hate speech targeting Black children was allowed while similar speech targeting, for instance, white men wasn't. The internal guidelines explained the factors considered by moderators, which led exactly to these seemingly-inexplicable content removals.
According to Facebook's internal guidelines, these categories are "protected," which means moderators will remove "hateful" content targeting anything on this list.
And this is the list of categories not considered "protected" by Facebook:
Critics pointed out the internal standards would seem to lead directly to harassment of groups supposedly protected (Black children), while shielding groups historically-viewed -- at least in the United States -- as not in any need of additional protections (white men).
This seemingly-incongruous outcome is due to the application of the rules by moderators. If a "protected" class is modified by an "unprotected" category ("Black" [race/protected] + "children" [age/unprotected]), the resulting combination is determined to be "unprotected." In the case of white men, both categories are protected: race + sex. What seems to be a shielding of a pretty protected group (white men) is actually just the proper application of Facebook's internal moderation guidelines
In response to criticism about outcomes like these, Facebook pointed out it operated globally. What might be considered a ridiculous (or even harmful) moderation decision here in the United States makes more sense in other areas of the world where white men might not make up a large percentage of the population or have historically held a great number of positions of power.
Decisions to be made by Facebook:
Questions and policy implications to consider:
Resolution: Facebook moderators continue to use lists like these to make decisions about perceived "hate speech." The company continues to consider all stakeholders, including foreign governments who have passed "hate speech" laws that surpass what the site's internal guidelines already target for removal.
We just sent you an email. Please click the link in the email to confirm your subscription!