Leaked rulebook reveals startling details about Facebook’s content moderation practices

Facebook has been under fire this year for a number of reasons this year. While bugs and security scandals have occupied a large part of it, a major reason for Facebook’s woes this year have been its content moderation practices. While in some cases, like the Rohingya genocide, the social media company was accused of not taking active steps to curtail hate speech, in other cases, it was blamed for shaping the political discourse. And now, a startling new report has shed new light on the way Facebook functions when it comes to its content moderation practices.

According to the 1,400 pages of Powerpoint presentations and Excel spreadsheets containing Facebook’s content moderation guidelines accessed by  Facebook’s rulebook is a complex collection of documents that serve as a reference book for its 7,500 plus content moderators around the world.

These guidelines are formulated by a group of Facebook employees comprising of people from various backgrounds, mostly lawyers and engineers, who breakdown answers to complex issues and situations into simple yes or no answers, before mailing them to the company’s content moderators sitting at various offices across the globe.

Notably, these documents are written in English and local content moderators have to often rely on Google Translate for translating the information into local languages. Google Translate can be unreliable, which can lead to blasphemous errors sometimes. In one of such incidents, Facebook described a Balkan leader, Ratko Mladic, as a fugitive in while he had been arrested in 2011, The Times wrote.

However, language is not the only issue cited by the company’s content moderators as a reason for errors pertaining to the kind of content that is allowed and sometimes wrongfully taken down from its platform. Moderators reviews thousands of posts everyday. And while they do not have a limit to prescribe to, they generally get about eight to ten seconds to review a piece of content and some additional time for reviewing videos. With the amount of content to be reviewed everyday and speed and accuracy going hand in hand, many moderators feel overwhelmed and leave their jobs within months.

However, the biggest problem with the social media giant remains the biases and errors in its guidelines. As per the findings of the report, a ‘paperwork error’ allowed an extremist group, credited for inciting the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, to stay online on Facebook for months. The genocide earned Facebook criticism from the United Nations as well.

In another case that highlights Facebook’s bias, the company reportedly issued a 40-page document before elections in Pakistan. In the document, while moderators were asked to apply additional scrutiny to posts by a religious party Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, another religious party Jamaat-e-Islami was described as “benign.” Additionally, the moderators were cautioned against creating a situation that could have a negative impact on the social media company’s reputation or land it in any legal trouble. In India, on the other hand, the moderators were wrongfully told to remove any content critical to a religion.