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Facebook’s questionable moderation policies exposed

Over the last few months Facebook has done plenty to try and save face. The company had to clean up one mess after another, be it the Cambridge Analytica scandal, privacy concerns, censorship issues or simply people feeling like they grew too big and powerful for their own good.

In truth for some people there is probably nothing Facebook could do now that would make them cool with the site, as the damage has already been done. For others Facebook may be on thin ice, but not yet ready to be abandoned.

This latest bit of news may cause them to rethink things, though. A documentary from the U.K. seems to have exposed something pretty terrible, which Facebook will most certainly have to answer for.

Facebook was caught on camera

The footage was obtained via undercover work as part of Channel 4’s episode “Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network.” What it showed was some very questionable and concerning practices with regards to how the site’s moderators did their jobs.

The investigators brought up a video of a small boy being abused. The video apparently has been circulating around Facebook for a while, and was “Marked As Disturbing” on the site. That provides a warning for anyone who is about to watch it, but does not remove it from the site altogether.

In the clip tweeted by Channel 4, the undercover reporter is seen talking to a Facebook employee who trains moderators and is told that there isn’t much more they will do. As bad as the video is, he said the only time they follow up on videos is when it meets their “escalation criteria.”

How the video doesn’t meet that criteria is anyone’s guess. Going even further, an unidentified employee is caught saying that a video of something like abuse that happened a long time ago would also not be reported to police.

Later in the video, Facebook’s Vice President of Global Policy, Richard Allen, says the employees made the wrong decision. He added that the video should not have been on the site and needed to be taken down.

That’s not the only video that showed Facebook’s moderators doing the wrong thing.

In another clip, a training regarding racist photos is shown. In it, the teacher is shown explaining to everyone that if one has to go through a bunch of hoops to determine if something is racist, then it should be left alone.

However, the image shown in the video, which the teacher says is acceptable on the site, is anything but. Again, Facebook said their employees were wrong and that the image violated their policies.

Facebook told the BBC that the employees involved have been “retrained” and that all trainers in their outsourced moderation centers would take similar classes.

How did this even happen?

Facebook’s community standards have been a topic of conversation of late, and indeed it is tough to try and promote freedom of speech while also regulating things that are deemed to be offensive. In some ways it is a matter of perspective, and the last thing Facebook wants is to be accused of bias.

At the same time, though, it is nearly impossible to find a reason why child abuse or racism should be allowed at all. Common sense should prevail, which makes this undercover operation that much more frustrating.

If these kinds of policies were in place there, in one of Facebook’s outsourced centers, how many others were running things in a similar fashion? What else have they seen but let pass, no matter how damaging or offensive it is?

Too much, as we’ve seen. And that’s not right.

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