Facebook has been at the center of many controversies recently. The Cambridge Analytica leak was a huge breach of user data that set the company on the back foot. Then, news broke that the site had been used as a platform by Russian nationals seeking to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. After some purported changes in the site’s algorithm and some nominal moves to oppose “fake news,” Facebook is back in the hot seat. This time, they’re reported to be defending Far-Right extremist Tommy Robinson and his group Britain First, among others.
The policy in question was referred to at the time as “Shielded Review.” The way Facebook deals with groups that violate its terms of service is pretty clear. After the fifth post in the group that is evidence of hate speech, the group is shut down. However, in many instances, including the Britain First case, the group fell under “Shielded Review” (which has since been renamed “cross-check”). Shielded Review meant that, even though the offending posts were taken down, the group was allowed to continue existing. According to Facebook, this was because of the high-profile nature of the group and the large number of members. It would seem these groups are so large that their traffic makes Facebook too much money to ban outright.
A spokesperson for Facebook, Richard Allen, stated the following in a Tuesday blog post. “It’s clear that some of what is shown in the program does not reflect Facebook’s policies or values, and falls short of the high standards we expect,” referring to Shielded Review. “We take these mistakes in some of our training processes and enforcement incredibly seriously and are grateful to the journalists who brought them to our attention. Where we know we have made mistakes, we have taken action immediately. We are providing additional training and are working to understand exactly what happened so we can rectify it.”
Emboldening the Far-Right
This comes at a particularly sensitive time. Last year, Far-Right terrorists in Charlottesville killed a peaceful protestor, sparking national outrage. Facebook’s apparently light hand with these hate groups is especially troubling in light of this fact. It begs the question: which move is too much? Facebook has had numerous second chances to recover from costly mistakes. At some point, the company will be too deep in their own mistakes to wade back.