Published On: Wed, Jun 17th, 2020

Facebook Battles Employees Who Complain About Censorship Policy

Social media policies have come under fire during the last couple of months as users demand repercussions for specific content. Recently Twitter determined that they would add a warning to President Trump’s tweets if they approved of violence or were straight out lies. Twitter’s actions saw a swift reprisal from President Trump who immediately signed an executive order to limit its legal protections of social media companies under a statute that shields them from liability for the content posted on their platforms. The tit-for-tat actions show that the President wants to be able to say whatever he wants on social media without censorship. It also shows that his favorite platform is willing to go to the mat to defend its perceived integrity. 

Facebook Sees Internal Turmoil

This change made at Twitter was not accepted at all social media platforms. Facebook decided that the information presented by Mr. Trump did not rise to a level where the company needed to take specific actions against the statements of the President. 

Internal dissent is often encouraged at Silicon Valley tech giants, but the companies have been accused of penalizing workers who organize and air complaints publicly. Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to take action over the President’s comments was met with internal challenges by employees. Over the past week, the social media giant fired an employee who had criticized Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg’s decision not to take action against the Facebook-posts by US President Donald Trump. Brandon Dail, an engineer in Seattle, said in a tweet on Friday that he was dismissed for publicly scolding a colleague who had refused to include a statement of support for the Black Lives Matter movement. Facebook confirmed the reason for the release.

photo/Piotr VaGla Waglowski, http://www.vagla.pl

Trumps’s Post Prompt Outcry Amongst Facebook Employees

Trump’s posts drew Facebook staff outcry which included the racially charged phrase “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” about demonstrations against racism and police brutality held after the May 25 killing of George Floyd. When this statement was released on Twitter the company affixed a warning label to the post, saying it glorified violence. Facebook opted to leave the post untouched.

In the wake of the inaction, by Facebook, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO defended his decision. During the meeting, Dail, the employee that was eventual fired, tweeted that it was “crystal clear today that leadership refuses to stand with us“. His reasoning was based on the verbiage that was released and not the person who made the statement. It appears now that Facebook users found a way to challenge Zuckerberg’s statement. 

An experiment was conducted by a Facebook user to determine if the artificial intelligence (AI) used by Facebook would tag the same content. Facebook uses artificial intelligence to find harmful content that violates community standards. What is unclear is whether the AI would pick up harmful content from another user but not the President of the United States.  Additionally, Facebook also relies on human moderators to flag harmful posts that appear on their platform.

To test the theory Facebook users created an account that asked the question “Will they suspend me?” Facebook page was created as an experiment on June 4. To see if the AI algorithm picked up harmful content the owner of the page copies and pastes all of Mr. Trump’s posts verbatim to see if Facebook will flag any for violence or language that is considered harmful.

The experiment yielded some interesting results. One of the Facebook posts that copied Mr. Trump’s Facebook page, was flagged, a week after it was posted on the “Will they suspend me?” account. The experiment showed that the account was marked for removal saying that the posts that were listed went against the company’s community standards. The account was notified that if the issue persists that account would be suspended. 

Screenshots show that Facebook alerted the “Will they suspend me?” account of the removal, saying the post went against its community standards. The account was notified that if the community standards were violated again, the account would be suspended. What seems obvious is that there appears to be some form of overrise where a Facebook employee can allow the same verbiage to exists depending on who posts the information. The identical content that President Trump places on his account was marked for suspension on the “Will they suspend me?” account. This experiment further inflamed Facebook employees who want to see the company take steps that will flag Mr. Trump’s posts if they violate the community standards of the company, regardless of who posts the statements. 

The Bottom Line

What is clear is that employees of social media companies want blanket use of their community standards and do not want a specific outlet for certain people. Twitter is no in a knock-down fight with the US President who wants to be able to say whatever he wants on the platform. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg does not seem to see things the same way. Regardless of how Zuckerberg fees Facebook share trading price continues to generate interest and is poised to test all-time highs.

Author: Lee Sadawski

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