Friday 17 August 2018

Facebook senior staff member apologises to Oireachtas committee for disturbing content

Screengrab taken from Oireachtas TV of Facebook executives Niamh Sweeney, Head of Public Policy, Facebook Ireland, appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in Dublin.
Oireachtas TV /PA Wire
Screengrab taken from Oireachtas TV of Facebook executives Niamh Sweeney, Head of Public Policy, Facebook Ireland, appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in Dublin. Oireachtas TV /PA Wire

A senior staff member of Facebook has apologised to a government committee after disturbing content was allowed to remain on the social media giant.

Niamh Sweeney, head of public policy of Facebook Ireland, has told Ireland's Communications Committee that Facebook has removed the content including a video of a toddler being assaulted by an adult.

Two senior Facebook staff members are appearing before the committee to answer questions about the content moderation policy of violent and harmful content.

A documentary on Channel 4's Dispatches programme, Inside Facebook, used hidden camera footage to show how content moderation practices are taught and applied within the company's operations in Dublin.

Screengrab taken from Oireachtas TV of Facebook executives, Niamh Sweeney (left), Head of Public Policy, Facebook Ireland, and Siobhan Cummiskey, Head of Content Policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in Dublin
Oireachtas TV /PA Wire
Screengrab taken from Oireachtas TV of Facebook executives, Niamh Sweeney (left), Head of Public Policy, Facebook Ireland, and Siobhan Cummiskey, Head of Content Policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa appearing before the Oireachtas Joint Committee on Communications, Climate Action and Environment in Dublin Oireachtas TV /PA Wire

It emerged in the undercover investigation that Facebook moderators were instructed not to remove extreme, abusive or graphic content from the platform even when it violated the company's guidelines.

This included violent videos involving assaults on children, racially charged hate speech and images of self-harm among under-age users.

Ms Sweeney said she and her colleagues were "upset" by what came to light in the programme.

She said: "Dispatches identified some areas where we have failed, and Siobhan (Cummiskey, head of content policy of Europe, the Middle East and Africa) and I are here to reiterate our apology for those failings.

"We should not be in this position and we want to reassure you that whenever failings are brought to our attention, we are committed to taking them seriously, addressing them in as swift and comprehensive a manner as possible."

Committee chair Hildegard Naughton said it was essential for lawmakers to question Facebook following the July 17 broadcast of a documentary.

While nudity is almost always removed, violent videos involving assaults on children, racially charged hate speech and images of self-harm among under-age users remained on Facebook despite being reported by users and reviewed by the moderators.

An undercover reporter worked at CPL Resources in Dublin, Facebook's largest centre for Ireland and UK content.

For six weeks the reporter attended training sessions and filmed conversations in the offices.

One video showed a man punching or stamping on a screaming toddler.

The moderators marked it as disturbing and allowed it to remain online and used it as an example of acceptable content.

"If you start censoring too much then people stop using the platform. It's all about money at the end of the day," one moderator was filmed saying.

Ms Sweeney also admitted that disturbing content of violent assaults and racially-charged hate speech that was allowed to remain on its platform was a betrayal of Facebook's own standards.

She said that the social media giant was not aware that a video of a young toddler being assaulted by an adult was being used to show the type of content that was allowed to remain on its site.

Ms Sweeney went on to tell the committee that a claim made in Channel 4 programme which suggested that the social media giant turns a blind eye to disturbing content was "categorically untrue".

"We are in the process of an internal investigation to understand why some actions taken by CPL were not reflective of our policies and the underlying values on which they are based," she said.

"Creating a safe environment where people from all over the world can share content is core to our business model."

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