TheyCantThe Online Hate Prevention Institute was alerted last week to sanctions imposed by Facebook against “They Can’t”, an anti-hate Facebook page.  We believe “They Can’t” fulfills a valuable public service when it posts links to antisemitic YouTube videos so that fans of the page can flag those videos and bring them to YouTube’s attention. OHPI have been discussing both the specific case of “They Can’t” and the wider public policy issues with senior management at Facebook over the last week. As a result of this conversation Facebook have agreed the sanctions were made in error, and have clarified their policy in relation to the use of Facebook to encourage reporting of hate speech, whether that hate speech occurs on Facebook or on another platform.

The Online Hate Prevention Institute believes Facebook’s position is helpful, provides greater freedom of action for those working against online hate, and ultimately empowers the public. The clarified position means that, in some circumstances, users can work collaboratively to share links that will enable others to report hate speech that violates either Facebook’s own terms of service or the terms of service of any other social media platforms. In the right circumstances, the posting of such links will not be regarded as posting hate speech in violation of Facebook’s own terms of service. At the same time, the exception is narrowly interpreted to ensure it is not abused.

This approach adds a significant level of context dependent depth to the implementation of Facebook’s terms of service.  The Online Hate Prevention Institute believes the approach Facebook has adopted strikes an important balance between the rule against hate speech and the freedom of speech needed to challenge hate speech in the public interest.

Facebook’s policy

Question from OHPI: “What is the position regarding posting links to content on Facebook itself and suggesting people go and report it? If it is found to be hate speech and removed, does this create a penalty against the person who posted a link to it?”

Answer from Facebook: “Our policy certainly does allow people to post links to hate speech in order to condemn it and encourage others to file reports.  We would not take any action to penalize a user who posts such a link in these circumstances.”

Implementing the Policy Effectively

Our contact at Facebook added: “We do however have to be careful to distinguish content that is intended to be counter-speech from that which is actively promoting hate speech.  This can be a difficult distinction to make”. This is where “They Can’t” ran into trouble, and it was only through an extensive review of “They Can’t”, which Facebook undertook at OHPI’s urging, that the mistake was acknowledge by Facebook and corrected. Facebook put significant effort into this process, and we thank them for that.

We note this approach of a manual review by Facebook staff is not a workable solution “at scale”.  Mistakes will happen as a result of Facebook seeking to be thorough in their efforts to remove links to content that breaches our rules, and missing the fact that a particular post falls within the exception. It must be recognised that when this occurs, it is a mistake, and not a deliberate attempt to limit those who trying to speaking out against hate. Those working against online hate should take action to minimize mistakes by acting in a way that helps Facebook staff more readily distinguish between posts made to condemn hate speech, and encourage others to report it, and posts made to spread hate speech.

Facebook’s process

When a review receives a complaint they see the following information:

  • The title of the page on which the reported content occurs – this provides context
  • The link to the hate speech
  • The message which was posted with the link

From these three items of information, the Facebook reviewer must determine if the post is aiming to disseminating hate speech, or to condemn it. A review will not usually examine the page as a whole in making this determination. The presumption is that content is being linked to for the purpose of disseminating it, as this is what most posting of content is about, though the message or the title of the page may displace this presumption.

Recommendations

  1. Facebook pages dedicated to reporting hate will have less trouble if their name reflects their purpose. The Online Hate Prevention Institute is itself an example of this. If our page was simply named “OHPI” it would make the role of reviewers more difficult as it would not add the necessary context.
  2. It is more effective to post a call to report hate speech in a page dedicated to reporting hate speech than it is to post it directly to your own wall. Note that once it is posted to a relevant page, you can then share it to your own wall.
  3. When posting a link to hate speech for the purpose of getting it reviewed by Facebook or another social media platform, make sure you don’t just post the link. Make sure you post a message as well.
  4. A message posted with a link to hate speech should ideally: (a) say the link is to hate speech, (b) urge people to report it, (c) avoid language that suggests you want people to watch / read the hate speech.
  5. Links to a page that shows hate speech, but doesn’t allow it to be reported, will not fall within this policy.  For example a link to a private website will not fall within this policy.

We thank Facebook for their effort both in reviewing “They Can’t”, and in working with us so we could better understand the process, and so we could provide you with these recommendations to help those working against hate avoid mistakes in the future. Thank you also to “They Can’t” for the excellent work they do, if you don’t follow them, please do. If you don’t follow the Online Hate Prevention Institute / aren’t on our mailing list, please do that too.