FB's open letter as marketers halt spend: 'Zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidences'

Facebook does not profit from hate, said Nick Clegg, Facebook's VP of global affairs and communications, in a recent post. He added that there is no incentive for the company to do anything but remove it.

The note comes as companies such as Diageo and Coca-Cola have also pressed paused on their Facebook ad spend as part of the "Stop profit for hate" campaign which claims that Facebook has "allowed incitement to violence against protesters" fighting for racial justice in America. The boycott has caused Facebook to lose about US$7 billion after Facebook shares dropped 8.3% last Friday. Facebook has also received criticism the past few weeks for its decision to allow controversial posts by US President Donald Trump to stay up. 

"Billions of people use Facebook and Instagram because they have good experiences - they don’t want to see hateful content, our advertisers don’t want to see it, and we don’t want to see it," Clegg, who is also the former Deputy Prime Minister of the UK, said.

Clegg said that when society is divided and tensions run high, the divisions play out on social media and platforms such as Facebook hold up a mirror to society. Everything that is good, bad and ugly in society will find expression on its platform, putting "a big responsibility" on Facebook and other social media companies to decide where to draw the online over what content is acceptable.

When we find hateful posts on Facebook and Instagram, we take a zero tolerance approach and remove them.

"When content falls short of being classified as hate speech - or of our other policies aimed at preventing harm or voter suppression - we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech. Exposing it to sunlight is better than hiding it in the shadows," Clegg added.

However, Clegg explained that zero tolerance does not mean zero incidences. With so much content posted every day, Clegg said rooting out the hate is like looking for a needle in a haystack. He explained that the company has invested billions of dollars each year in people and technology to keep the platform safe, as well as tripled, to more than 35,000, the people working on safety and security. Facebook, Clegg said, is also a pioneer in artificial intelligence technology to remove hateful content at scale.

After all that has been done, Clegg said the company is making real progress. Citing a recent European Commission report, he said that Facebook assessed 95.7% of hate speech reports in less than 24 hours, faster than YouTube and Twitter.

"Last month, we reported that we find nearly 90% of the hate speech we remove before someone reports it - up from 24% little over two years ago. We took action against 9.6 million pieces of content in the first quarter of 2020 - up from 5.7 million in the previous quarter. And 99% of the ISIS and Al Qaeda content we remove is taken down before anyone reports it to us," he said.

He also said that it is worth remembering that when the darkest things are happening in society, social media gives people a means to shine a light. According to Clegg, while Facebook may never be able to prevent hate from appearing on its platform entirely, it is getting better at stopping it all the time.

While Facebook is getting better, Clegg said it is not complacent. Therefore, it recently announced new policies and products to ensure consumers can stay safe, informed, and ultimately use their voice where it matters most - voting. Facebook also understands why critics are angry about the inflammatory rhetoric President Trump has posted on the platform and others, and want the company to be more aggressive in removing his speech. Based on this, Clegg said every Facebook user of voting age in the US will be given information, prominently displayed on the top of their News Feed, on how to register to vote, beginning Friday.

"We have also been updating our policies to crack down on voter suppression. Many of these changes are a direct result of feedback from the civil rights community - we’ll keep working with them and other experts as we adjust our policies to address new risks as they emerge," he added. Clegg also said:

Of course, focusing on hate speech and other types of harmful content on social media is necessary and understandable, but it is worth remembering that the vast majority of those billions of conversations are positive.

Citing the COVID-19 pandemic as an example, Clegg said Facebook helped people to get accurate, authoritative health information. This was done by directing over two billion people on Facebook and Instagram to information from the World Health Organisation and other public health authorities, with more than 350 million people clicking through.

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