Thursday, December 22, 2016
Facebook’s confusing hate speech policy detailed in leaked documents
‘Migrants are dirt’ will get removed, but ‘migrants are dirty’ is fine
German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung has obtained what it says are internal documents used to guide content moderation on Facebook. Excerpts from the documents, which the paper published on Friday, shed light on how the world’s largest social network defines hate speech and other offensive content — something that Facebook has long been reluctant to disclose. A separate report from SZ, published on Thursday, detailed operations at a Berlin office where more than 600 people work to moderate content on Facebook, earning barely more than Germany’s minimum wage.
Lawmakers in Germany and other European countries have pressured Facebook to more swiftly remove racist and xenophobic content, much of which has been directed toward migrants. German authorities have argued that Facebook must curb hateful content at a time of rising anti-migrant sentiment; but critics of the crackdown have warned of “creeping censorship,” raising concerns over how Facebook would define hate speech.
The documents published by SZ provide some insight into the company’s approach. According to the newspaper, Facebook strictly prohibits content that targets a person based on characteristics such as race, national origin, religion, or sexual orientation — factors that the company defines as a “protected category.” The documents also outline sub-categories that receive extra protection, such as youth and senior citizens, and include hundreds of examples meant to cover a range of permutations and contexts.
The documents allow for content that attacks a religion or a country, though attacks on individuals based on religion or nationality are removed. But the line is a bit blurrier for migrants, despite the fact that many who have sought asylum in recent years are from majority-Muslim countries like Syria. From the SZ report:
For instance, saying “fucking Muslims” is not allowed, as religious affiliation is a protected category. However, the sentence “fucking migrants” is allowed, as migrants are only a “quasi protected category” – a special form that was introduced after complaints were made in Germany. This rule states that promoting hate against migrants is allowed under certain circumstances: statements such as “migrants are dirty” are allowed, while “migrants are dirt” isn’t.