Wednesday 21 February 2018

Facebook censoring policy revealed

The powerful image from the Vietnam war in 1972
The powerful image from the Vietnam war in 1972

Kristina Cooke, Dan Levine and Dustin Volz

After Facebook's removal of an iconic Vietnam war photo stirred an international uproar last month, the social network's executives quickly backtracked and cleared its publication.

But the image - showing a naked Vietnamese girl burned by napalm - had previously been used in training sessions as an example of a post that should be removed, two former Facebook employees told Reuters.

Trainers told content-monitoring staffers that the photo violated Facebook policy, despite its historical significance, because it depicted a naked child, in distress, photographed without her consent, said the employees.

The social network has taken great pains to craft rules that can be applied uniformly with minimal discretion. The reversal on the war photo, however, shows how Facebook's top executives sometimes overrule company policy and its legions of low-and mid-level content monitors.

Facebook has often insisted that it is a technology company - not a media company - but an elite group of at least five senior executives regularly directs content policy and makes editorial judgment calls, particularly in high-profile controversies, eight current and former Facebook executives told Reuters.

One key decision-maker - Justin Osofsky, who runs the community operations division - wrote a Facebook post acknowledging that the removal of the war photo was a "mistake".

"Sometimes," he wrote, "the global and historical significance of a photo like 'Terror of War' outweighs the importance of keeping nudity off Facebook."

Facebook spokeswoman Christine Chen declined to comment on the company's use of the photo in training sessions.

Facebook has long resisted calls to publicly detail its policies and practices on censoring postings.

That approach has drawn criticism from users who have had content removed and free-speech advocates, who cite a lack of transparency and a lack of an appeals process.

At the same time, some governments and anti-terror groups are pressuring the company to remove more posts they consider offensive or dangerous.

The current and former Facebook executives, most of them speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters in detail how complaints move through the company's content-policing apparatus.

Irish Independent

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