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Facebook removes 10 million posts for hate speech as tensions rise on the social network

May 12, 2020, 6:06 PM UTC

Facebook removed nearly 10 million posts for violating its hate speech policy during the first three months of this year, marking a new quarterly high for such infractions on the social network. 

The company said on Tuesday that the increase, a 68% gain from 5.7 million posts during the previous quarter, was due to improvements in its technology for policing the service. Facebook did not address whether increasing hate on the site was a factor. The company’s technology can now scan posts in additional languages and is also better at detecting hate speech in English, the company said. 

“It’s allowed us to identify more harm proactively and keep our community safe including now in the face of a global pandemic,” Mark Zuckerberg, CEO of Facebook, said during a press call on Tuesday. “That said, I know our systems aren’t perfect and need to improve. Our effectiveness has certainly been impacted by having less human review during COVID-19, and we do unfortunately expect to make more mistakes.”

Facebook bans violent or dehumanizing comments, statements of inferiority, calls for exclusion or segregation, or slurs against any race ethnicity, religion, and sexual orientation.

Additionally, the company that less than 1% of appeals by users to reinstate posts removed for hate speech were successful within the last quarter. The company said this is partially due to fewer resources being devoted to hate-speech appeals because they have been diverted to policing posts about the coronavirus that violated the company’s policies. 

Following the outbreak, Facebook said it had planned to refocus much of its content moderation efforts on posts about the coronavirus. That means other problems like bullying and harassment, which heavily depend on content moderators to police, would get less attention and therefore could become a greater problem. Meanwhile, political tensions continue to rise on the social network as federal and state politicians take different approaches to handling the pandemic. The outbreak also created a rise of anti-Asian sentiment. And coronavirus aside, tensions are continuing to flare as the U.S. nears a contentious presidential election.

“We’re definitely monitoring and continuing to look closely at how the COVID pandemic is impacting these kinds of trends on our platform,” Guy Rosen, vice president of integrity at Facebook, said suggesting the current quarter should reveal more about the pandemic’s impact on hate speech.

Before the first quarter, the highest number of posts that were removed from Facebook for hate speech violations during a three-month period were 7 million in the third quarter of 2019.

In the last quarter, Facebook said it removed about 89% of the hate speech posts before they had been flagged by any users. That’s up from about 80% of posts the company found proactively during the previous quarter as Facebook continues to improve its automated detection.

The report also showed a rise in organized hate, or hate groups. In the first quarter, the company removed 4.7 million such posts, which does not include numbers from the month of March. That total is nearly triple the 1.6 million posts removed in the fourth quarter for a similar reason. Of the posts removed in the first quarter, Facebook said it found 97% of them before users reported them.

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