Facebook apologises for content moderation issues at Dublin base

2 Aug 2018

Facebook app open on a mobile device. Image: sitthiphong/Shutterstock

Facebook officials spoke with Oireachtas members for several hours about content moderation rules at the company.

Yesterday (1 August) the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Communications, Climate Action and the Environment questioned Facebook executives about how the company is responding to a recent Channel 4 documentary, which highlighted major errors in its content moderation implementation.

Facebook’s Niamh Sweeney, head of public policy in Ireland, and Siobhán Cummiskey, head of content policy for EMEA, outlined some steps the company is taking to bolster its moderation system. The two also fielded questions from committee members such as TDs Eamon Ryan, Michael Lowry and Bríd Smith.

Facebook is examining all issues

Calling the revelations from the Dispatches programme “deeply disturbing”, Sweeney noted: “Siobhán and I – along with our colleagues here in Dublin and around the world – were also upset by what came to light in the programme.”

Sweeney stressed that the company was taking all criticism seriously. “Dispatches identified some areas where we have failed, and Siobhán and I are here today 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, and making sure that we do better in future.”

The committee was informed that the PowerPoint training deck used by CPL had been amended by the latter, something that was done without Facebook’s knowledge. The company will be supervising the training at CPL much more closely over the next six months or more.

Sweeney also said that the content featuring the child being abused shown in the Dispatches programme should “not have been up for six years” and noted that this was one of the gaps in the company’s system.

The platform is reviewing its policy around non-sexual images of child abuse in conjunction with child safety organisations and law enforcement. Cummiskey reiterated the firm’s zero-tolerance policy around child exploitation imagery and hate speech.

Facebook moderators are now told to put a hold on any account that is reported to them “if there is an indication that the user is underage, and even if the initial report was for something else”.

Lowry questioned the ability of Facebook to self-regulate given the large volume of users. Sweeney responded, noting that most people who use Facebook do so to connect with friends and family.

Smith criticised Facebook’s management of the Britain First page on the platform as well as alleged censorship of Palestinian content.

Ryan called for data to become available under a citizen ownership model and said the scandal reflected badly on both Facebook and Ireland as a whole.

New tools to give users control

Sweeney noted the launch of a new toolkit for both Facebook and Instagram to allow users to manage their time on the platforms more efficiently.

One feature allows users to view a dashboard that tells you how much time you have spent on these apps per day, while another tool lets you set daily usage limits for yourself.

Facebook users can find the new features in settings under ‘Your Time On Facebook’ and Instagram users need to go to settings and open ‘Your Activity’.

Facebook said: “Our hope is that these tools give people more control over the time they spend on our platforms and also foster conversations between parents and teens about the online habits that are right for them.”

A push for regulation?

Following the meeting, committee chair Hildegarde Naughton, TD, said: “As Facebook’s European headquarters is based in Ireland, we must lead the way. The press are regulated. Television and radio is regulated. It is the view of the committee that the time for self-regulation by social media platforms is over.

“We are not planning to turn back the clock or ban social media. What we are proposing is to regulate to ensure that such platforms are safe places for its users.”

Naughton will be requesting to meet with European commissioner for the digital economy and society, Mariya Ivanova Gabriel, to discuss the need for European regulation in this area.

Facebook app open on a mobile device. Image: sitthiphong/Shutterstock

Ellen Tannam was a journalist with Silicon Republic, covering all manner of business and tech subjects