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Facebook opens up about efforts to scrub offensive content

16 May 2018

The company's internal "detection technology" has been efficient at taking down spam and fake accounts, removing them by the hundreds of millions during Q1.

The company said most of the increase was the result of improvements in detection technology.

837 million pieces of Spam were detected and removed during the first quarter, up 15% on the previous period, while 583 million fake accounts were disabled, a reduction of 16%.

The release of the report-the first time the company has ever made such data public-comes on the heels of a series of other first-ever efforts at transparency following the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook's subsequent apologies, and Mark Zuckerberg's many hours of testimony on Capitol Hill. For instance, Alex Schultz, the company's vice-president of data analytics, said the amount of content moderated for graphic violence nearly tripled quarter-on-quarter.

[Image: courtesy of Facebook]"We aim to reduce violations to the point that our community doesn't regularly experience them", Rosen and vice president of data analytics Alex Schultz write in the report.

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Explaining the figures, the company's vice president of product management Guy Rosen said: It's important to stress that this is very much a work in progress and we will likely change our methodology as we learn more about what's important and what works.

The report covers the six months from October 2017 to March 2018, and also covered graphic violence, nudity and sex, terrorist propaganda, spam and fake accounts. The rest came after Facebook users flagged the offending content for review.

Facebook took action on 1.9 million pieces of content over terrorist propaganda.

The report did not cover the spread of false news directly, which it has previously said it was trying to stamp out by increasing transparency on who buys political ads, strengthening enforcement and making it harder for so-called "clickbait" from showing up in users' feeds. It said it estimates that between 7 and 9 views out of every 10,000 pieces of content viewed on the social media platform were of content that violated the company's adult nudity and pornography standards. Overall, the social giant estimated that around 3%-4% of active Facebook accounts on the site during Q1 were still fake.

Facebook took action on 2.5 million pieces of content over hate speech, but doesn't have view numbers as it is still "developing measurement methods for this violation type". "This is especially true where we've been able to build artificial intelligence technology that automatically identifies content that might violate our standards".

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"We took down or applied warning labels to about three and a half million pieces of violent content in Q1 2018, 86 per cent of which was identified by our technology before it was reported to Facebook".

The company has been using artificial intelligence to help pinpoint the bad content, but Rosen said the technology still struggles to understand the context around a Facebook post pushing hate, and one simply recounting a personal experience.

It disabled 583 million fake accounts. "While not always ideal, this combination helps us find and flag potentially violating content at scale before many people see or report it".

But most of Facebook's removal efforts centered on spam and fake accounts promoting it.

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Facebook opens up about efforts to scrub offensive content