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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."

Does Elon Musk make Tesla tech?

Between the massive valuation and the self-driving software, Tesla isn't hard to sell as a tech company. But does that mean that, in 10 years, every car will be tech?

You know what's not tech and is a car company? Volkswagen.

Image: Tesla/Protocol

From disagreements about what "Autopilot" should mean and SolarCity lawsuits to space colonization and Boring Company tunnels, extremely online Tesla CEO Elon Musk and his company stay firmly in the news, giving us all plenty of opportunities to consider whether the company that made electric cars cool counts as tech.

The massive valuation definitely screams tech, as does the company's investment in self-driving software and battery development. But at the end of the day, this might not be enough to convince skeptics that Tesla is anything other than a car company that uses tech. It also raises questions about the role that timeliness plays in calling something tech. In a potential future where EVs are the norm and many run on Tesla's own software — which is well within the realm of possibility — will Tesla lose its claim to a tech pedigree?

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Becca Evans
Becca Evans is a copy editor and producer at Protocol. Previously she edited Carrie Ann Conversations, a wellness and lifestyle publication founded by Carrie Ann Inaba. She's also written for STYLECASTER. Becca lives in Los Angeles.

As President of Alibaba Group, I am often asked, "What is Alibaba doing in the U.S.?"

In fact, most people are not aware we have a business in the U.S. because we are not a U.S. consumer-facing service that people use every day – nor do we want to be. Our consumers – nearly 900 million of them – are located in China.

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J. Michael Evans
Michael Evans leads and executes Alibaba Group's international strategy for globalizing the company and expanding its businesses outside of China.
Protocol | Workplace

Apple isn’t the only tech company spooked by the delta variant

Spooked by rising cases of COVID-19, many tech companies delay their office reopening.

Apple and at least two other Silicon Valley companies have decided to delay their reopenings in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Photo: Luis Alvarez via Getty

Apple grabbed headlines this week when it told employees it would delay its office reopening until October or later. But the iPhone maker wasn't alone: At least two other Silicon Valley companies decided to delay their reopenings last week in response to rising COVID-19 case counts.

Both ServiceNow and Pure Storage opted to push back their September return-to-office dates last week, telling employees they can work remotely until at least the end of the year. Other companies may decide to exercise more caution given the current trends.

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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 | Workplace

Half of working parents have felt discriminated against during COVID

A new survey found that working parents at the VP level are more likely to say they've faced discrimination at work than their lower-level counterparts.

A new survey looks at discrimination faced by working parents during the pandemic.

Photo: d3sign/Getty Images

The toll COVID-19 has taken on working parents — particularly working moms — is, by now, well-documented. The impact for parents in low-wage jobs has been particularly devastating.

But a new survey, shared exclusively with Protocol, finds that among parents who kept their jobs through the pandemic, people who hold more senior positions are actually more likely to say they faced discrimination at work than their lower-level colleagues.

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Issie Lapowsky

Issie Lapowsky ( @issielapowsky) is Protocol's chief correspondent, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. She also oversees Protocol's fellowship program. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University's Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing.

Protocol | Enterprise

Alphabet goes deep into industrial robotic software with Intrinsic

If it succeeds, the gambit could help support Google Cloud's lofty ambitions in the manufacturing sector.

Alphabet is aiming to make advanced robotic technology affordable to customers.

Photo: Getty Images

Alphabet launched a new division Friday called Intrinsic, which will focus on building software for industrial robots, per a blog post. The move plunges the tech giant deeper into a sector that's in the midst of a major wave of digitization.

The goal of Intrinsic is to "give industrial robots the ability to sense, learn, and automatically make adjustments as they're completing tasks, so they work in a wider range of settings and applications," CEO Wendy Tan-White wrote in the post.

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Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a senior reporter at Protocol covering enterprise software, including industry giants like Salesforce, Microsoft, IBM and Oracle. He previously covered emerging technology for Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

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