3 min read

📌 About that hour-long Facebook exec interview

The week in content moderation - edition #34

Hi folks. White smoke finally came out of Facebook’s chimney this week as it revealed plans for an independent Content Oversight Board. More will be written about this in the coming days so I’ll return to it in next week’s EiC.

Thanks to those of you who forwarded last week’s edition on to friends/colleagues — they can sign up here if it’s their bag.

Thanks for reading — BW

What are Facebook’s 'content police’ up to?

In last week’s EiC, I linked to a short clip from a recent Yahoo Finance interview with three Facebook executives involved in the platform’s content moderation policies and practices.

It's rare that Facebook allow three senior execs to discuss a topic together, let alone something as thorny as moderation, misinformation and free speech, so the fact that Monika Bickert (Head of Global Policy Management), John Devine (VP of Global Operations) and Guy Rosen (VP of Integrity) were all put up felt significant. And when I came across the full one-hour programme, I had to watch it. Here’s what I learnt:

  • Authenticity is the big buzzword right now - It came up time and time again during the interview - in relation to removing fake accounts, political adverts, content moderation decisions, everything. Why? It’s one of Facebook's updated values that serve as the basis for the Community Guidelines (a blog post about these new values was published on the same day as the Yahoo interview). So it’s no wonder they dropped it in so often.
  • They want us to know they're  emphasis internal co-operation - The fact that the heads of the policy, operations and integrity (product) units at Facebook were fielding questions side-by-side wasn’t an accident. Bickert also reiterated at numerous points that the feedback loop between all three execs was key and had helped them thwart users selling guns on Marketplace (apparently savvy users got around image recognition by posting an ad for a $500 can of coke with a gun in the background).
  • Don’t expect it to be perfect - There were several large caveats about the future of content moderation. John Devine said it was ‘impossible to make it perfect' (19:50) and Guy Rosen, when prompted about Facebook Live, noted that there are 'limitations to what AI can do in real-time' (26:00). Facebook admitting that it's fallible? Who’d have thought it?
  • They don’t always agree - For the most part, all three execs sung from the same hymn sheet. But there were times where differences emerged. Once, when asked if they thought about the effect on user traffic when making decisions, Bickert and Devine nodded before Rosen shook his head and fielded the question (10:33).
  • Each is convinced they’re doing a public service - all three execs wanted to emphasise the moral aspect of their work and talked about 'civil service' and 'public good' a bunch of times. Particularly interesting since Devine spent 12 years in the US military and Bickert was Assistant US Attorney as the US Department of Justice. I'll leave you to decide whether they're right.

Is Instagram taking health seriously?

Instagram this week updated their policy on dieting and weight loss products. Ysabel Gerrard, a researcher from the University of Sheffield who was involved in the consultation process, explains more in this thread:

Not forgetting...

This is kind of nuts. Facebook has just settled on an eight-year court battle with a French teacher following his banning for posting a picture of Courbet’s Origin of the World picture.

It's not clear where he said it or who he said it to but Buzzfeed CEO and co-founder Jonah Peretti has a new eight-step plan for fixing the internet (better moderation is #1)

BuzzFeed CEO's 8-step plan to "unbreak" the internet - Axios

Jonah Peretti is calling on the public, media, government and corporate America to pressure platforms into elevating quality journalism.

Microsoft president Brad Smith repeated his calls for stronger content moderation, making it clear that the IT giant sees a business opportunity in a healthier web.

Reuters hosts Newsmaker with Microsoft President Brad Smith - Reuters

On Friday, Reuters hosted a Newsmaker event in New York with Microsoft President Brad Smith, to discuss his book, Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age.

A bit of fun to finish with: A Finnish public broadcaster has built an online game called "Troll Factory" where you behave like a professional online troll and try to rile people up

Troll Factory

It's your first day at the new job at Troll Factory. How many followers can you get?

Everything in Moderation is a weekly newsletter about content moderation and the policies, products, platforms and people shaping its future.