Facebook’s Post-Insurrection Purge Catches A Bunch Of Left Wing Accounts In Its AI Net

from the fine-deleted-accounts-on-both-sides dept

Facebook has often been accused of having an anti-conservative bias. But its efforts to clean up its platform following the January 6th attack on the Capitol building indicate it just has an ongoing (and probably unsolvable) moderation problem.

Shortly after the DC riot, it announced it would be removing content containing certain slogans (like “stop the steal”) as an “emergency measure” to stop the spread of misinformation or encourage similar election-based attacks on other government buildings.

It’s not clear what other switches were flipped during this post-riot moderation effort, but it appears groups diametrically opposed to Trump and his views were swept up in the purge.

Facebook said it had mistakenly removed a number of far-left political accounts, citing an “automation error”, triggering uproar from socialists who accused the social media platform of censorship.

Last week, the social media company took down a cluster of groups, pages and individuals involved in socialist politics without explanation. These included the Socialist Workers party and its student wing, the Socialist Worker Student Society in the UK, as well as the International Youth and Students for Social Equality chapter at the University of Michigan and the page of Genevieve Leigh, national secretary of the IYSSE in the US.

Moderation is tough even when it’s only hundreds of posts. Facebook is struggling to stay on top of billions of daily posts while also answering to dozens of governments and thousands of competing concerns about content. Moderation without automation isn’t optional. And that’s how things like this happen.

Granted, it’s a less than satisfying explanation for what went wrong. It doesn’t give anyone any assurance it won’t happen again. And it’s pretty much guaranteed to happen again because it’s already happened before. Activists associated with the Socialist Workers Party saw their accounts suspended and content deleted following another Facebook moderation effort that took place in early December 2020.

Facebook has disabled the accounts of over 45 left wing activists and 15 Facebook pages in Britain. The individuals and pages are all socialist and left wing political activists and organisations who campaign against racism and climate change, and in solidarity with Palestine.

Facebook has given no reason for disabling the accounts, and has not given any genuine way of appealing what has happened.

The SWP was left to guess why these accounts and pages were targeted. One theory is that Facebook moderation was purging the site of pro-Palestinian content, which sometimes is linked to bigotry or terrorist activity. Or it could be the new AI was wary of any political postings dealing with sensitive subjects and began nuking content somewhat indiscriminately.

Or it could be part of a purge that began last August, when Facebook expanded its internal list of “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations.” Anything viewed by AI as “promoting violence” was fair game, even if context might have shown some targeted posts and groups were actually decrying violence and outing “dangerous” individuals/organizations. During that enforcement effort, Facebook took down left-wing pages, including some attempting to out white supremacists and neo-Nazis.

This probably was an automation error. And the automation will continue to improve. But if the automation isn’t backstopped by human moderators and usable options to challenge content removal, things like this will continue to happen, and on an increasingly larger scale.

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Filed Under: anti-conservative bias, content moderation, masnick’s impossibility theoremCompanies: facebook