Gay Marriage Photo Yanked (then Restored) in Another Instance of Facebook’s Flawed Content Removal System at WorkBy: Josh Wolford - January 23, 2013
Facebook is (once again) in the middle of a content removal drama – except this time is doesn’t have anything to do with breastfeeding, racy cartoons, art, exposed nipples, or racially charged posts. This time, the drama centers around a marriage equality activist and his popular page.
As the story goes, Murray Lip, activist and founder of advocacy group Gay Marriage USA, was recently banned from posting content on his Facebook page after Facebook deemed a photo that he had posted was in “violation of their policies and community standards.”
Lipp, whose ‘Gay Marriage USA’ page has around 300,000 likes, says that this is not the first time that Facebook has reprimanded him for content posted to his page. He claims that the content is not offensive or in violation of Facebook standards, but it is being flagged by the site due to numerous complaints from homophobic Facebook users.
The photo that Facebook removed and for which Lipp was scolded feature an interracial gay couple being married. Here it is:
After protests, Facebook reinstated the photo and issued this statement:
The content of the photograph in question did not violate our terms, however it was removed in error. Our dedicated User Operations team reviews millions of pieces of this content a day to help keep Facebook safe for all. Our policies are enforced by a team of reviewers in several offices across the globe. This team looks at hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally, we make a mistake and block a piece of content we shouldn’t have.
When Facebook mistakenly removed a New Yorker cartoon last September, here’s the statement they made:
Recently, we mistakenly blocked a cartoon as part of our efforts to keep the site safe for all and quickly worked to rectify the mistake as soon as we were notified. Facebook is a place where almost a billion people share click more than a trillion links a day. Our dedicated User Operations Team reviews millions of pieces of this content a day to help keep Facebook safe for all. Our policies are enforced by a team of reviewers in several offices across the globe. This team looks at hundreds of thousands of reports every week, and as you might expect, occasionally, we make a mistake and block a piece of content we shouldn’t have. We have already taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future and we sincerely apologize for any inconvenience.
Nearly identical responses, as you can see. What’s the common thread here? It’s that Facebook screwed up and they’re sorry.
And we shouldn’t be too surprised when Facebook gets it wrong and removes content that they shouldn’t. That “dedicated user operations team” that they mention mostly consists of outsourced content moderators who are given some often confusing guidelines on what is acceptable and what isn’t. Facebook has millions and millions of pieces of content uploaded every day, and it’s impossible to police it all without the help of users themselves.
That’s why Facebook relies heavily on user reports of content that violates policies. That’s probably what triggered this photo (and all of Lipp’s other photos in the past) to be removed – lots of complaining.
Many of those removals are eventually restored, however. And Facebook always says “sorry, our bad.” With over 1 billion active users and tens of thousands of pieces of content rolling in every day, you can see why they screw it up every now and then.
Then again, Facebook’s content guidelines clearly say nothing about photos of gay couples. They do say something about harassment and hate speech, however. In a perfect world, that’s the content that would be getting purged from Gay Marriage USA’s Facebook page. While the innocuous image shown above is nowhere near offensive, hate speech is offensive.
Gay Marriage USA had started a petition on Change.org called Facebook: Stop Pandering to Homophobes. Part of the petitions’s goal has already been fulfilled – the photo has been restored. But the general “stop pandering” request is still unfulfilled, and legitimate. I would agree that Facebook is probably pandering to homophobes when they remove certain content. But I would also say that it’s not just homophobes. Facebook’s content removal system is flawed. It makes mistakes.
But if non-violating content from a page like Gay Marriage USA is being removed this often, based on complaints from users, Facebook needs to make sure its content moderators are a little more hesitant to act in the future.