After facing a mass ad boycott in response to the “Stop Hate for Profit” campaign which was launched by the controversial non-profit the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and several other groups, Facebook has bowed to the pressure and announced changes to its policies.
The campaign called for Facebook to censor more “hate speech” and “misinformation” on its platforms and in today’s announcement, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg revealed four changes:
1. It will be introducing a “Voting Information Center” that contains “authoritative” information on how and when users can vote. Links to this Voting Information Center will be automatically inserted on posts that discuss voting, including those from politicians, and the Voting Information Center will also appear at the top of Facebook and Instagram.
2. It will be removing “false claims” about polling conditions in the 72 hours leading into election day, ICE agents checking for immigration papers at polling places, and “any threats of coordinated interference” which will include statements that Facebook deems to be an attempt to intimidate voters.
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3. It will be “prohibiting a wider category of hateful content in ads” by banning “claims that people from a specific race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, caste, sexual orientation, gender identity or immigration status are a threat to the physical safety, health or survival of others.” It will also be expanding its policies to “better protect immigrants, migrants, refugees, and asylum seekers from ads suggesting these groups are inferior or expressing contempt, dismissal or disgust directed at them.”
4. It will start labeling some content that violates its policies but is left up because it’s deemed to be “newsworthy” and “allow people to share this content to condemn it” with a prompt that warns users the content they’re sharing violates Facebook’s policies.
In what appeared to be a reference to complaints that some of President Trump’s previous posts about using state force were violent, Facebook also clarified that:
“There is no newsworthiness exemption to content that incites violence or suppresses voting. Even if a politician or government official says it, if we determine that content may lead to violence or deprive people of their right to vote, we will take that content down. Similarly, there are no exceptions for politicians in any of the policies I’m announcing here today.”
In summary, Facebook will be directing viewers of content about voting to what it deems to be authoritative mainstream media sources, a wider category of what Facebook deems to be “false claims” about voting will now be censored, a wider category of ads that Facebook deems to be hateful will be banned (with ads criticizing immigrants or immigration looking like they will be facing the heaviest restrictions), and Facebook will be introducing labels that seem similar to those Twitter has previously used to censor some of Trump’s tweets and that will have strict restrictions on sharing (users can only share the posts if they condemn them).
Predictably, the ADL’s response to Facebook’s announcement was “Mark Zuckerberg’s response today was not enough” and that he needs to agree to an extensive list of demands which include adopting even stricter “hateful conduct policies” and removing more of what it deems to be misinformation.
Before Facebook made its announcement, the ADL had admitted that Facebook has been doing better at removing hate speech and misinformation but insisted that “‘better’ isn’t good enough.”
The ADL even acknowledges that if Facebook bows to its latest list of demands this would still be “not sufficient.”
To put the ADL’s demands in context, Facebook’s recent stats show that it removed 9.6 million pieces of hate speech in Q1 2020 (a 68.4% increase compared with the previous quarter) and 89% of these posts were flagged and taken down by Facebook’s artificial intelligence (AI) before a user reported them.
While Facebook doesn’t share similar numbers on misinformation, Zuckerberg recently announced that since the coronavirus outbreak, the platform has applied 50 million misinformation warning labels to posts and that 95% of the time, users don’t click through to content that has a warning label.
A recent report from the European Union (EU) also revealed that Facebook censors hate speech far more aggressively than Twitter and YouTube.
So Facebook is already removing millions of posts for hate speech and misinformation each quarter, it’s the biggest Big Tech censor of hate speech, the available numbers show that the volume of content removed is increasing rapidly each quarter, and most of the time, Facebook users don’t even see the supposed hate speech or misinformation because of the actions Facebook is taking.
By the ADL’s standard, this still isn’t enough, the changes Facebook announced today aren’t enough, and even bowing to the ADL’s demands won’t be enough.
No matter what enforcement measures are used, there will always be hate speech, misinformation, or other types of content that groups such as the ADL want scrubbed from social media platforms.
Numerous examples have shown that cracking down on hate speech and misinformation causes collateral damage and leads to the censorship of historical photos, memes, and many other types of innocuous content.
Bowing to these demands and attempting to crack down on this tiny fraction of content that the majority of Facebook’s users don’t even see perpetuates the cycle of more innocuous content being censored.
It doesn’t stop the demands for more censorship from groups like the ADL, it doesn’t appear to have brought back the advertisers that have already decided to boycott Facebook, and some advertisers such as Honda even boycotted Facebook after these changes were announced.
The only way to stop the cycle is for Facebook to stand up to the ADL and refuse to change its policies in response to these pressure tactics.