Facebook and YouTube are asking for consumer trust—and taking steps to improve their transparency to earn it.
The organizations are responding to complaints that they don’t do enough to remove abusive content from their sites. Whether it’s Facebook’s fake news problem or disrespectful YouTube videos, consumers have clamored for regulation—and Silicon Valley is trying to get a head start.
Facebook publishes guidelines
Facebook published 25 pages of new guidelines for acceptable posts, including the process for how posts will be removed and how users can appeal a removal. The rules had never been published before, in an attempt to keep users from gaming the system.
Facebook is effectively shifting where it will be criticized to the underlying policy instead of individual incidents of enforcement mistakes like when it took down posts of the newsworthy “Napalm Girl” historical photo because it contains child nudity before eventually restoring them. Some groups will surely find points to take issue with, but Facebook has made some significant improvements. Most notably, it no longer disqualifies minorities from shielding from hate speech because an unprotected characteristic like “children” is appended to a protected characteristic like “black”.
While users might still find loopholes, Facebook hopes that announcing its guidelines will change user behavior.
Facebook’s VP of Global Product Management Monika Bickert who has been coordinating the release of the guidelines since September told reporters at Facebook’s Menlo Park HQ last week that “There’s been a lot of research about how when institutions put their policies out there, people change their behavior, and that’s a good thing.” She admits there’s still the concern that terrorists or hate groups will get better at developing “workarounds” to evade Facebook’s moderators, “but the benefits of being more open about what’s happening behind the scenes outweighs that.”
Facebook created a website detailing its many efforts to curb abusive content, but it admits that it can still do more.
We’re under no illusion that the job is done or that the progress we have made is enough. Terrorist groups are always trying to circumvent our systems, so we must constantly improve. Researchers and our own teams of reviewers regularly find material that our technology misses. But we learn from every misstep, experiment with new detection methods and work to expand what terrorist groups we target.
Facebook hopes that by offering more transparency it can avoid criticism and backlash, like when it took down a famous war photograph.
Ultimately, Facebook says it wants to allow as much as possible.
For the social media giant, it’s a question of balance. Balance between free speech and user safety. Balance between curbing “fake news” and encouraging open political discourse. And balance between Facebook’s obligation to serve as a steward of a welcoming environment and the realities of running a for-profit, publicly owned corporation.
“We do try to allow as much speech as possible,” Bickert said, “and we know sometimes that might make people uncomfortable.”
YouTube recruits reviewers and AI
YouTube has also faced criticism for insensitive or abusive content online, even from established YouTubers. Recently, Logan Paul was harshly criticized for a video showing a person who had just committed suicide in Japan.
In December, YouTube announced tougher actions to police content on its site, including hiring more human reviewers and being more transparent in how artificial intelligence was flagging bad actors on the platform.
Now, YouTube is backing up that promise with its first ever community guidelines enforcement report. The report shows that the organization has removed more than 8 million videos, 6.6 million of which were flagged by robots.
Although Google wants consumers to focus on the incredible ability of its AI, some are still wondering if the platform is doing enough to remove bad content.
The glass-half-empty argument would go something like this: YouTube’s massive scale, combined with its platform philosophy—let users upload whatever they want, then review it when necessary—means that it will never be able to get a complete handle on problematic clips.
Another way of putting it: YouTube says it intercepted some 4.5 million bad videos before anyone saw them. But some of its billion-plus users saw another 1.5 million clips—in just three months—that ultimately needed to be pulled off the site. And even if most of those clips only generated a few views, any one of them has the potential to upset a user, or an advertiser—or a government official who thinks the site needs more oversight.
What do you think of these attempts to offer more transparency?