2018 hasn’t been an easy year for Facebook, but its one-size-fits-all approach to content moderation and its unwillingness to make deep changes are landing the Social Network in hot water.
Facebook has been in the news this year for all the wrong reasons. And as if privacy scandals, investigations, and allegations weren’t enough, a recent New York Times article comes to cap it all off like a cherry on top. The article focuses on leaked internal documents that show how Facebook tries to regulate content on its platform and the irregularities that characterise this attempt. Yes, it’s fast becoming the villainous tech giant that everyone loves to hate, but the company – or rather its top executives – aren’t exactly making the right moves either.
From the documents, it’s become clear that Facebook’s moderators – those responsible for flagging and policing content – are incredibly overworked and to make things worse they rely on information that is both outdated and, in many cases, incorrect. I would agree that monitoring content produced by over 2.5 billion users is challenging (especially if many of them are up to no good in the first place), but Facebook is doing it in the wrong way.
One one hand, it doesn’t employ enough local moderators with broad local knowledge on important issues and their impact.
In many cases, moderators (mostly English-speakers relying on Google Translate to figure out the content of posts and comments) only have seconds in which to determine whether to flag something or not. On the other, Facebook sources its moderators from external contractors, and one can only wonder whether they ever receive the right training. And even if they did receive the right training, how many of them are really needed to be able to regulate the sheer volume of content effectively?
From the way Facebook is handling this, it has become clear that it is relying on temporary fixes for a problem that is fast getting out of hand. Instead of relying on local experts, and strong local teams that are well-informed and well-trained, its top executives are pumping out policy from an ivory tower, without really understanding what’s happening on the ground. This has already led to situations that have moved beyond its control.
For these shortcomings (and a few others), Facebook is now being targeted by multiple regulatory bodies and governments across the globe. Whether it’s the Irish Data Protection Commission (DPC) investigating the company for violating GDPR across Europe, of the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) looking into previous and recent data breaches, or regulators in Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Ireland, Latvia, Singapore, France, Belgium other countries sounding the warning bells, there is trouble on the horizon.
Mark Zuckerberg recently said that he’s “proud of the progress we’ve made,” as he defended his company’s handling of the crises, but I feel the world has a different view. Facebook needs to do something drastic. Soon.