Facebook’s secretive censorship guidelines allegedly leaked in report

facebook lauches workplace app with screenshare photos header
armpannawat/123RF
A new report purports to reveal for the first time Facebook’s secret content removal policies.

Excerpts of internal documents that the company allegedly hands out to both its own staff and third-party content moderators were provided to German newspaper Süddeutsche Zeitung by unidentified sources. Although Facebook’s website touches upon its guidelines, the information in the documents offers much more detail. The chapter that stands out covers Facebook’s stance on hate speech, an issue of contention in Germany, where the social network is currently facing a lawsuit over its alleged inaction on the matter.

The documents reveal a convoluted hate-speech policy that contains a number of loopholes resulting from the criteria Facebook uses to determine what constitutes hateful rhetoric.

Facebook apparently does not permit “verbal attacks” on a “protected category,” for example. These self-determined categories are currently based on a number of factors, including sex, religious affiliation, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, disability, or serious illness. Some of these groups contain subcategories that receive extra protection (for example, under “age,” criteria such as “youth” and “senior citizen” receive priority).

An overview at the end of the hate speech chapter is where things start to get a bit muddled. A sentence reportedly containing an expletive directly followed by a reference to a religious affiliation (for example: “f*cking Muslims”) is not allowed. However, the same does not go for the term “migrants,” as migrants are allegedly only a “quasi-protected category.” Additionally, Facebook reportedly allows for posts that could be deemed hateful against migrants under certain circumstances. For example, a statement such as “migrants are dirty” is allowed, whereas “migrants are dirt” isn’t.

We reached out to Facebook to verify the accuracy of the documents, but did not immediately receive a response. If the documents do turn out to be official, the examples above could raise alarm bells for German authorities; the term “migrants” was added to the list of criteria only following public pressure in the country. Earlier this week, German Justice Minister Heiko Maas also urged an immediate crackdown on hate speech disseminated through social media sites, such as Facebook.

A related report in the same German daily provides an in-depth look at the inner workings of Facebook’s Berlin-based content moderation team. In it, several members of the company’s 600-strong staff (which also includes employees outsourced from a Bertelsmann business services unit) claim to have suffered psychological issues as a result of the material they were exposed to. “I’ve seen things that made me seriously question my faith in humanity,” said one anonymous worker. The report claims that the troubled workers were not provided access to professional help.

Another employee describes the tortuous guidelines Facebook allegedly has in place: “The rules are almost impossible to understand. I’ve said to my team leader: this is crazy! The picture is full of blood and brutality, no one should have to see that. But he said: that’s just your opinion. You have to try and think about what Facebook wants. We’re expected to think like machines.”

Emerging Tech

Life after launch: Inside the massive effort to preserve NASA’s space artifacts

The Apollo 11 mission put a man on the moon, but NASA didn’t necessarily preserve every step of the process. Researchers are trying to rescue the history on Earth and on the moon.
Social Media

Instagram will give users chance to fix accounts in danger of being banned

Instagram will start issuing warnings for accounts that are in danger of being banned. People will also be able to appeal for the restoration of deleted content through the notifications, instead of having to go to the Help Center.
Emerging Tech

Dark side of the moon: Why lunar landing conspiracies flourish online

Social media platforms seemed lovely at first, places to share dumb jokes and the minutiae of everyday life. Those sites have an underbelly, however, and have been a breeding ground for conspiracy theories.
Computing

Office 365 has been banned from German schools due to privacy concerns

Some schools in Germany have banned the use of Office 365 due to privacy concerns and a recent ruling from the German state of Hesse that declared Microsoft's cloud-based service isn't GDPR compliant enough to be used in schools.
Social Media

The FTC will hit Facebook with a $5 billion fine over privacy violations

Facebook has agreed to a $5 billion settlement with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) over its numerous “privacy missteps." Once it goes through, this would be the largest FTC fine for a major technology company – and a huge chunk of…
News

Lua uses animated emotions to help you keep your plants happy and healthy

The Lua Smart Planter is currently seeking funding on Indiegogo to make this smiling plant pot a reality. The device helps you take care of your plants by showing their needs through a series of animated faces.
News

Facebook says it won’t launch Libra until regulators are happy

Facebook says it won’t roll out its Libra cryptocurrency until it’s fully addressed regulatory concerns – though it added that regulation of the currency itself would largely happen in Switzerland, not the U.S.
Mobile

Flex your thumbs (and your brain) with these fun texting games

Gaming consoles keep getting more advanced, but you can still have fun with the good old Latin alphabet. Here are our picks for the best texting games, so you can make the most fun out of that limited data plan or basic cell phone.
Social Media

Twitter’s mobile-inspired dark mode desktop makeover isn’t just about looks

Twitter.com may have a new look, but it's one that already feels familiar. The new design for Twitter's desktop version borrows heavily from the platform's mobile apps, with a sleeker look, a new dark mode, and easier navigation.
Digital Trends Live

Digital Trends Live: Twitter’s redesign, Libra’s possible delay, Neuralink

On this episode of DT Live, we take a look at the biggest trending stories in tech, including a Twitter redesign, Facebook's delay of Libra, Neuralink's first public event, growing food in space, and the 50th anniversary of Apollo 11.
News

The U.S. Senate really doesn’t like Facebook’s Libra cryptocurrency plans

Facebook Libra had its first big regulatory test when Calibra head David Marcus appeared before the Senate Banking Committee. It didn’t go well. Senators of both parties had major concerns about Facebook's proposed cryptocurrency.
Social Media

Instagram is crashing repeatedly for some users. Here’s the latest on the outage

Thousands of Instagram users said Tuesday that the social media app was repeatedly crashing or not opening at all, the third time in just over a month that the social network has experienced issues.
Web

Dirty deeds are uncovered dirt cheap with these online background check resources

There are plenty of reasons for carrying out a background check, and not all of them are creepy. Here are several methods to run a background check on someone online, whether you need to vet a potential hire or a new babysitter.
Social Media

Study suggests using emojis makes you appear more friendly — even at work

Can emojis be a clue into your personality? A recent survey suggests that emojis make a person seem friendlier and more approachable, even when used within a professional work environment.