One thing’s certain about the new digital world, in which companies such as Facebook grow quickly and end up huge and influential: You can tick off a lot of people, really, a lot, really quickly.
And that’s what Mark Zuckerberg has done with Facebook, prompting dozens of human-rights organizations from around the globe to write him a letter telling him to clean up his act.
Specifically, they want his company to start explaining what he censors, and why, and provide those whose content is tossed into the trash bin an appeal process.
The letter, dated Tuesday, says that some influential Facebook software users, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art and a Danish member of parliament, were able to get their censored content restored by the company.
But for most people, that’s impossible.
“When Facebook first came onto our screens, users who violated its rules and had their content removed or their account deactivated were sent a message telling them that the decision was final and could not be appealed. It was only in 2011, after years of advocacy from human rights organizations, that your company added a mechanism to appeal account deactivations, and only in 2018 that Facebook initiated a process for remedying wrongful takedowns of certain types of content,” said the letter, signed by leaders of about 70 human- and digital-rights groups.
“Those appeals are available for posts removed for nudity, sexual activity, hate speech or graphic violence.”
That, however, doesn’t go far enough, the letter states.
“Today, we the undersigned civil society organizations, call on Facebook to provide a mechanism for all of its users to appeal content restrictions, and, in every case, to have the appealed decision re-reviewed by a human moderator,” they write.
“Facebook’s stated mission is to give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together. With more than two billion users and a wide variety of features, Facebook is the world’s premier communications platform. We know that you recognize the responsibility you have to prevent abuse and keep users safe. As you know, social media companies, including Facebook, have a responsibility to respect human rights, and international and regional human rights bodies have a number of specific recommendations for improvement, notably concerning the right to remedy.
“Facebook remains far behind its competitors when it comes to affording its users due process. We know from years of research and documentation that human content moderators, as well as machine learning algorithms, are prone to error, and that even low error rates can result in millions of silenced users when operating at massive scale. Yet Facebook users are only able to appeal content decisions in a limited set of circumstances, and it is impossible for users to know how pervasive erroneous content takedowns are without increased transparency on Facebook’s part.”
Facebook has been embroiled in scandals in recent months over allowing outsiders access to its patrons’ private information and censoring conservative content.
Recently, evidence of efforts by Google, Facebook and Twitter to block conservatives’ access to constituent was entered into the Congressional Record.
One conservative group, ALIPAC, recently asserted in a report that it is being “severely censored, hampered, and abused by the Silicon Valley corporations of Google, Facebook, and Twitter, which publicly oppose and lobby against our positions while simultaneously providing us with unequal services based on our political creed which can be defined by our support for America’s existing border and immigration laws.”
“These companies have collectively reduced our web traffic to our main website at ALIPAC.us, reduced our search result rankings drastically, banned us at times, shadow banned us covertly, suppressed our content and releases, blocked ads, removed our ability to place ads, deleted videos and content, made multiple false accusations of ‘hate speech’ or ‘hateful content’ against us, and refused to verify our accounts,” ALIPAC said.
Tech giant executives repeatedly have stated they want to limit “hate” speech on their sites. But critics argue they define “hate” speech as ideas that conflict with their progressive agenda.
Targeted by the Silicon Valley companies have been conservatives such as Diamond and Silk, Center for Immigration Studies, Ann Coulter, Alex Jones, California Republican congressional candidate Elizabeth Heng, executive director of the Ron Paul Institute Daniel McAdams, Milo Yiannopoulos, Rep. Marsha Blackburn, R-Tenn., Prager University, Overpasses for America, Canadian intelligence expert and prominent anti-Islamist researcher Tom Quiggin, Jihad Watch, David Horowitz of Frontpage Magazine, YouTubers James Allsup and Lauren Southern, Steven Crowder and Fox News contributor Michelle Malkin, the ALIPAC report said.
Just months ago, EFF called on the tech companies “to publicly report how many user posts they take down, provide users with detailed explanations about takedowns, and implement appeals policies to boost accountability.”
Newsbusters, a service of the Media Research Center, reports MRC President Brent Bozell and dozens of others issued a joint statement urging social-media companies to start playing fair if they “wish to have any credibility with the conservative movement and its tens of millions of supporters.”
The letter asserted Facebook “has a responsibility to respect its users’ expression to the best of its ability. Furthermore, civil society groups around the globe have criticized the way that Facebook’s Community Standards exhibit bias and are unevenly applied across different languages and cultural contexts. Offering a remedy mechanism, as well as more transparency, will go a long way toward supporting user expression.”
EFF advocated in the letter for use of the Santa Clara Principles on Transparency and Accountability in Content Moderation, which “recommend standards for transparency and meaningful appeal. This set of recommendations is consistent with the work of the U.N. Special Rapporteur on the promotion of the right to freedom of expression and opinion David Kaye, who recently called for a ‘framework for the moderation of user- generated online content that puts human rights at the very center.’ It is also consistent with the U.N. Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which articulate the human rights responsibilities of companies.”
The groups signing the letter hail from South America, Europe, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and the U.S.
Specifically, Facebook needs to clearly explain to users why content is restricted, provide a chance to appeal the decisions reveal how much it does censor.
The groups signing the letter ranged from the Electronic Frontier Foundation to Fundación Ciudadano Inteligente, ACLU Foundation of Northern California to Africa Freedom of Information Centre.
Other signatories are the Albanian Media Institute, American Civil Liberties Union, Americans for Democracy & Human Rights in Bahrain, Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, CAIR San Francisco Bay Area, Center for Independent Journalism – Romania, Committee to Protect Journalists, Digital Rights Foundation and Fundación Acceso.
The EFF statement said: “While Facebook is under enormous—and still mounting—pressure to remove material that is truly threatening, without transparency, fairness, and processes to identify and correct mistakes, Facebook’s content takedown policies too often backfire and silence the very people that should have their voices heard on the platform.
“Onlinecensorship.org, an EFF project for users to report takedown notices, has collected reports of hundreds of unjustified takedown incidents where appeals were unavailable. For most users, content Facebook removes is rarely restored, and some are banned from the platform for no good reason.”
“You shouldn’t have to be famous or make headlines to get Facebook to respond to bad content moderation decisions, but that’s exactly what’s happening,” said EFF Director for International Freedom of Expression Jillian York. “Mark Zuckerberg created a company that’s the world’s premier communications platform. He has a responsibility to all users, not just those who can make the most noise and potentially make the company look bad.”