I was invited to a Community Standards workshop by Facebook Africa in Nairobi, Kenya last week. It was the first time the company put together an event like this for 40 journalists from about 18 countries in Africa, which included five media from South Africa.
Image credit: Shutterstock
Initially it wasn’t clear what the event was going to be about, and when we got to the event, were told no photos and videos, etc. Not the correct approach to take with journalists, who are expected to report back on the event. Nevertheless, this was my experience.
WHY WAS I THERE?
Aside from the Facebook communications teams, the event included the public policy team from various regions: Emilar Gandhi, Fadzai Madzingira, Toby Parlett, Mercy Ndagwa, and Phil Odour who provided insights and answered questions.
WHAT DID WE DO?
My understanding of the situation felt clear cut and both my decisions on what to do with the two different pieces of content – I chose to keep one and remove the other – were in fact the wrong decision. The were lots of debate within the teams, and loads of disagreements – naturally – because different factors came into play. We discussed how we came by certain decisions, and it turns out, saying something sounds dodgy (like what South Africans know to be a scam, like asking for money on FB) isn’t disallowed.
WHAT I LEARNT FROM THE WORKSHOP
There are three tiers of attacks in the case of hate speech specifically, for example: Tier 1 is calls to violence, dehumanizing; Tier 2 is inferiority, contempt, disgust; and Tier 3 calls for seclusion and segregation (the most difficult one, I don’t understand it fully but it took seven months to write the policy). It’s complicated.
We were given a ten-minute explanation of the policy, versus the eighty hours of training for employees. We received a condensed version for the workshop and I think I understood it from a surface level, with the help of the context from the scenarios we were put in. Ten minutes is no match to eighty hours of training.
Given that billions of people use Facebook and Instagram, I understand and can sympathise with the teams who have to do these difficult tasks, and the toll it takes. I hope their working conditions actually improve (more on this below from my questions posed to them), and we can see a follow up story on how it has changed.
AS A FB OR IG USER
As someone who uses the block and report tools daily (no exaggeration), I have seen the turnaround time shift in the last year, from months to weeks to days now – the quickest one I received – less than an hour. I report weirdos who message me, especially ones with dodgy accounts (forex and bitcoin traders, anyone?), which get taken down, or those who sell followers, and just content that goes against the rules.
You can appeal any decision Facebook and Instagram makes with regards to keeping content up or taking it down. We were told it goes both ways, and they are willing to learn from mistakes. However, when it comes to politics, religion, health etc, things can get messy and appear very biased.
Facebook releases reports on what content gets taken down, you can find it here: https://transparency.facebook.com/community-standards-enforcement
MY QUESTIONS ANSWERED
How has the environment been made better in the last few months for moderators: There is an AI that is used to take content down, and while it is good and getting better, it’s not perfect, which is why humans still have to play a role in this, said Parlett. Moderators constantly get training due to new policies. I’m told they also get psychological support, on site or at home, or it can include private healthcare. Moderators are also allowed to leave their desks immediately for a time out when required.
Around the difficulty to get copyrighted content removed from IG: There’s a separate flow of questions one has to follow which goes to a specialist team to deal with it. FB also said it’s a separate team that works on this and they’d have to get more more info if I wanted. (I know there isn’t way to directly report someone who has used an image of yours without permission, it leads to tapping on “learn more”).
LOOKING AT THE BIGGER PICTURE
Disclaimer: For those not aware, I quit Facebook before the CA scandal, but it obviously has no bearing on me writing about the company. I have a love/hate relationship with Instagram (love the beautiful content I choose to see; hate the spam I get from creeps, and randoms tagging me in comments & photos).