Facebook Learns That the Censor’s Job Is Never Done


The NewCo Daily: Today’s Top Stories

Facebook is hitting the two billion user mark right about now. It’s also in the process of becoming one of the world’s largest censors, as it doubles its staff of “content reviewers” to more than 7000 to try to keep up with a rising tide of illegal, hateful, or abusive posts.

Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger of ProPublica take a long, fascinating look at the troubles Facebook is getting into by hiring a deletion army. The company is in effect setting itself up as a quasi-legal authority over expression on its platform — one whose laws are not published, whose enforcers are anonymous, and whose judgments cannot be appealed.

ProPublica got its hands on a set of training slides for Facebook reviewers, and it’s a remarkable find. Among many other things, it highlights how arcane, arbitrary, and in some cases nearly incomprehensible the service’s rules are. It doesn’t help that harried employees then must apply these rules in seconds as they race to meet their quotas.

There’s a particularly bizarre principle that distinguishes between members of certain “protected groups” but not “subgroups.” The end result of this: “white men” are a protected group but “black children” — as a subgroup, apparently — are not.

Any rule set that can provide such an absurd outcome isn’t worth saving. Facebook needs to start over — and while the company is at it, it should go ahead and share the new rulebook with users. Sure, there’s a danger they will game the system. But that can’t be worse than the mess Facebook is creating now.

More daily items:

The Horseman of the Digital Apocalypse Is A Virus Named Petya

The Economist Who Hated Democracy


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