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."

Theranos’ investor pitches go on trial

Prosecutors in the Elizabeth Holmes fraud case are now highlighting allegations the company sought to mislead investors.

The fresh details of unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The Theranos trial continued this week with testimony from Daniel Edlin, a former product manager at the blood-testing startup, and Shane Weber, a scientist from Pfizer. Their testimonies appeared to bolster the government's argument that Holmes intentionally defrauded investors and patients.

The fresh details about audacious and unproven claims made about the viability of Theranos' blood tests and efforts to conceal errors when demonstrating testing equipment added to the evidence against Holmes, who is accused of fraud in her role leading the company.

Keep Reading Show less
Aisha Counts

Aisha Counts (@aishacounts) is a reporting fellow at Protocol, based out of Los Angeles. Previously, she worked for Ernst & Young, where she researched and wrote about the future of work, emerging technologies and startups. She is a graduate of the University of Southern California, where she studied business and philosophy. She can be reached at acounts@protocol.com.

The way we work has fundamentally changed. COVID-19 upended business dealings and office work processes, putting into hyperdrive a move towards digital collaboration platforms that allow teams to streamline processes and communicate from anywhere. According to the International Data Corporation, the revenue for worldwide collaboration applications increased 32.9 percent from 2019 to 2020, reaching $22.6 billion; it's expected to become a $50.7 billion industry by 2025.

"While consumers and early adopter businesses had widely embraced collaborative applications prior to the pandemic, the market saw five years' worth of new users in the first six months of 2020," said Wayne Kurtzman, research director of social and collaboration at IDC. "This has cemented collaboration, at least to some extent, for every business, large and small."

Keep Reading Show less
Kate Silver

Kate Silver is an award-winning reporter and editor with 15-plus years of journalism experience. Based in Chicago, she specializes in feature and business reporting. Kate's reporting has appeared in the Washington Post, The Chicago Tribune, The Atlantic's CityLab, Atlas Obscura, The Telegraph and many other outlets.

Protocol | Policy

8 takeaways from states’ new filing against Google

New details have been unsealed in the states' antitrust suit against Google for anticompetitive behavior in the ads market.

Google is facing complaints by government competition enforcers on several fronts.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Up to 22%: That's the fee Google charges publishers for sales on its online ad exchanges, according to newly unredacted details in a complaint by several state attorneys general.

The figure is just one of the many details that a court allowed the states to unveil Friday. Many had more or less remained secrets inside Google and the online publishing industry, even through prior legal complaints and eager public interest.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

Protocol | Workplace

This tech founder uses a converted Sprinter van as an office on wheels

The CEO of productivity startup Rock likes to work on the road. Here's how he does it — starting with three different WiFi hotspots.

Kenzo Fong, founder and CEO of the 20-person productivity software startup Rock, has been working out of his converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van since the pandemic began.

Photo: Kenzo Fong/Rock

Plenty of techies have started companies in garages. Try running a startup from a van.

In San Francisco, one software company founder has been using a converted Mercedes-Benz Sprinter van — picture an Amazon delivery vehicle — as a mobile office.

Keep Reading Show less
Allison Levitsky
Allison Levitsky is a reporter at Protocol covering workplace issues in tech. She previously covered big tech companies and the tech workforce for the Silicon Valley Business Journal. Allison grew up in the Bay Area and graduated from UC Berkeley.
Protocol | Policy

Most Americans want AI regulation — and they want it yesterday

In a poll, people said they wanted to see artificial intelligence technologies develop in the U.S. — alongside rules governing their use.

U.S. lawmakers have only just begun the long process of regulating the use of AI.

Photo: Louis Velazquez/Unsplash

Nearly two-thirds of Americans want the U.S to regulate the development and use of artificial intelligence in the next year or sooner — with half saying that regulation should have begun yesterday, according to a Morning Consult poll. Another 13% say that regulation should start in the next year.

"You can thread this together," Austin Carson, founder of new nonprofit group SeedAI and former government relations lead for Nvidia, said in an email. "Half or more Americans want to address all of these things, split pretty evenly along ideological lines."

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

ai
Latest Stories