Facebook’s new content moderation report only proves the case of its moderators

The company's ability to spot violating posts is back to pre-pandemic levels, just as its moderators start heading back to the office.

Facebook's office in Menlo Park

Dozens of Facebook moderators signed an open letter this week to Mark Zuckerberg and others that criticizes recent orders that they return to the office despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and demands they be made full-time employees.

Image: AFP/Getty Images

Facebook's decision to send content moderators home in March had devastating consequences for the company's ability to catch and remove posts containing the most harmful content. Now, as some moderators have returned to the office in recent months, things are getting back to normal — underlining the importance of having humans in the loop.

That's according to Facebook's third-quarter transparency report, published Thursday. It shows, for instance, that in the third quarter of this year, Instagram removed nearly twice as much child sexual abuse material and nearly five times as much suicide-related content as it did in the second quarter.

This dramatic shift underscores just how crucial this global army of moderators is to the way the world's largest social media platform operates.

"People are an important part of the equation for content enforcement," Guy Rosen, Facebook's vice president of integrity, said on a call with reporters Thursday. "These are incredibly important workers who do an incredibly important part of this job ... The reason we're bringing some workers back into offices is exactly to ensure that we can have that balance of both people and AI working on these areas."

Facebook's report comes just one day after dozens of moderators signed an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others that criticizes recent orders that they return to the office despite a surge in COVID-19 cases and demands that they be made full-time employees. "By outsourcing our jobs, Facebook implies that the 35,000 of us who work in moderation are somehow peripheral to social media," the letter read. "Yet we are so integral to Facebook's viability that we must risk our lives to come into work."

Rosen stressed that the majority of content moderators are still working from home, but said that those who have gone back to the office are doing so in spaces with reduced capacity, physical distancing, mandatory temperature checks and other safety precautions "to ensure that we're providing a safe workspace for them to do this incredibly important work to keep our community safe as well."

The moderators argued that's not enough, and are pushing Facebook to guarantee them things like "real healthcare," hazard pay and the ability to continue working from home if they live with at-risk individuals.

Facebook's executives credited many of the gains they made this quarter to their investment in automated systems. That includes their ability to proactively detect 95% of hate speech on the platform. When Facebook first began reporting this stat in 2017, just 23.6% of hate speech was proactively detected before users reported it. Facebook also reported the prevalence of hate speech on the platform — that is, the percentage of times people actually see hate speech while using Facebook — for the first time. They found that prevalence was 0.1% to 0.11%, suggesting for every 10,000 views on Facebook, about 10 or 11 of them contain hate speech.

Despite these advances, Facebook's chief technology officer Mike Schroepfer acknowledged that automated filters will never replace the work of human moderators. "I don't see any short-term reduction or long-term reduction in the human involvement in this," he said on the call. "We get faster, more accurate, more powerful and then we can use our amazing staff we have to work on the more nuanced problems we have that really require human review."

Fintech

Judge Zia Faruqui is trying to teach you crypto, one ‘SNL’ reference at a time

His decisions on major cryptocurrency cases have quoted "The Big Lebowski," "SNL," and "Dr. Strangelove." That’s because he wants you — yes, you — to read them.

The ways Zia Faruqui (right) has weighed on cases that have come before him can give lawyers clues as to what legal frameworks will pass muster.

Photo: Carolyn Van Houten/The Washington Post via Getty Images

“Cryptocurrency and related software analytics tools are ‘The wave of the future, Dude. One hundred percent electronic.’”

That’s not a quote from "The Big Lebowski" — at least, not directly. It’s a quote from a Washington, D.C., district court memorandum opinion on the role cryptocurrency analytics tools can play in government investigations. The author is Magistrate Judge Zia Faruqui.

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Veronica Irwin

Veronica Irwin (@vronirwin) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol covering fintech. Previously she was at the San Francisco Examiner, covering tech from a hyper-local angle. Before that, her byline was featured in SF Weekly, The Nation, Techworker, Ms. Magazine and The Frisc.

The financial technology transformation is driving competition, creating consumer choice, and shaping the future of finance. Hear from seven fintech leaders who are reshaping the future of finance, and join the inaugural Financial Technology Association Fintech Summit to learn more.

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FTA
The Financial Technology Association (FTA) represents industry leaders shaping the future of finance. We champion the power of technology-centered financial services and advocate for the modernization of financial regulation to support inclusion and responsible innovation.
Enterprise

AWS CEO: The cloud isn’t just about technology

As AWS preps for its annual re:Invent conference, Adam Selipsky talks product strategy, support for hybrid environments, and the value of the cloud in uncertain economic times.

Photo: Noah Berger/Getty Images for Amazon Web Services

AWS is gearing up for re:Invent, its annual cloud computing conference where announcements this year are expected to focus on its end-to-end data strategy and delivering new industry-specific services.

It will be the second re:Invent with CEO Adam Selipsky as leader of the industry’s largest cloud provider after his return last year to AWS from data visualization company Tableau Software.

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Donna Goodison

Donna Goodison (@dgoodison) is Protocol's senior reporter focusing on enterprise infrastructure technology, from the 'Big 3' cloud computing providers to data centers. She previously covered the public cloud at CRN after 15 years as a business reporter for the Boston Herald. Based in Massachusetts, she also has worked as a Boston Globe freelancer, business reporter at the Boston Business Journal and real estate reporter at Banker & Tradesman after toiling at weekly newspapers.

Image: Protocol

We launched Protocol in February 2020 to cover the evolving power center of tech. It is with deep sadness that just under three years later, we are winding down the publication.

As of today, we will not publish any more stories. All of our newsletters, apart from our flagship, Source Code, will no longer be sent. Source Code will be published and sent for the next few weeks, but it will also close down in December.

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Bennett Richardson

Bennett Richardson ( @bennettrich) is the president of Protocol. Prior to joining Protocol in 2019, Bennett was executive director of global strategic partnerships at POLITICO, where he led strategic growth efforts including POLITICO's European expansion in Brussels and POLITICO's creative agency POLITICO Focus during his six years with the company. Prior to POLITICO, Bennett was co-founder and CMO of Hinge, the mobile dating company recently acquired by Match Group. Bennett began his career in digital and social brand marketing working with major brands across tech, energy, and health care at leading marketing and communications agencies including Edelman and GMMB. Bennett is originally from Portland, Maine, and received his bachelor's degree from Colgate University.

Enterprise

Why large enterprises struggle to find suitable platforms for MLops

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, and as larger enterprises go from deploying hundreds of models to thousands and even millions of models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

As companies expand their use of AI beyond running just a few machine learning models, ML practitioners say that they have yet to find what they need from prepackaged MLops systems.

Photo: artpartner-images via Getty Images

On any given day, Lily AI runs hundreds of machine learning models using computer vision and natural language processing that are customized for its retail and ecommerce clients to make website product recommendations, forecast demand, and plan merchandising. But this spring when the company was in the market for a machine learning operations platform to manage its expanding model roster, it wasn’t easy to find a suitable off-the-shelf system that could handle such a large number of models in deployment while also meeting other criteria.

Some MLops platforms are not well-suited for maintaining even more than 10 machine learning models when it comes to keeping track of data, navigating their user interfaces, or reporting capabilities, Matthew Nokleby, machine learning manager for Lily AI’s product intelligence team, told Protocol earlier this year. “The duct tape starts to show,” he said.

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Kate Kaye

Kate Kaye is an award-winning multimedia reporter digging deep and telling print, digital and audio stories. She covers AI and data for Protocol. Her reporting on AI and tech ethics issues has been published in OneZero, Fast Company, MIT Technology Review, CityLab, Ad Age and Digiday and heard on NPR. Kate is the creator of RedTailMedia.org and is the author of "Campaign '08: A Turning Point for Digital Media," a book about how the 2008 presidential campaigns used digital media and data.

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