Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Facebook’s Rulebook for Global Political Speech

Max Fisher of the New York Times, building on earlier reporting by Nick Hopkins of the Guardian, and Jason Koebler and Joseph Cox of Vice:

As detailed as the guidelines can be, they are also approximations — best guesses at how to fight extremism or disinformation. And they are leading Facebook to intrude into sensitive political matters the world over, sometimes clumsily.

Increasingly, the decisions on what posts should be barred amount to regulating political speech — and not just on the fringes. In many countries, extremism and the mainstream are blurring.

In the United States, Facebook banned the Proud Boys, a far-right pro-Trump group. The company also blocked an inflammatory ad, about a caravan of Central American migrants, that was produced by President Trump’s political team.

In June, according to internal emails reviewed by The Times, moderators were told to allow users to praise the Taliban — normally a forbidden practice — if they mentioned its decision to enter into a cease-fire. In another email, moderators were told to hunt down and remove rumors wrongly accusing an Israeli soldier of killing a Palestinian medic.

“Facebook’s role has become so hegemonic, so monopolistic, that it has become a force unto itself,” said Jasmin Mujanovic, an expert on the Balkans. “No one entity, especially not a for-profit venture like Facebook, should have that kind of power to influence public debate and policy.”

We’ve never had a private company able to so easily direct and limit speech for so many people. As Maya Kosoff wrote for Vanity Fair earlier this year — in response to Koebler and Cox’s reporting — this is a direct result of Facebook’s “tireless drive to expand”. They have constantly and consistently failed to control their platform, and antitrust regulators in the United States made no attempt to use existing laws to curb their growth. As a result, they now have unprecedented reach and control over worldwide dialogue.

One thing I’ve not seen answered in any of these reports is whether moderators specialize in a particular subject — hate speech regarding a specific group, for example — or more generalized. I don’t see either approach working well at Facebook’s scale, but at least a specialized moderator would be able to approach each posts with a unique understanding and context.