- Last week, a former Facebook employee publicly shared a memo detailing his experiences of racism at the company.
- Facebook then temporarily blocked the post, saying it violated its rules.
- The incident highlights apparent issues with Facebook’s content moderation systems, and the company’s power to shape public debate.
Facebook temporarily took down a post by a former employee that complained of racism at the company and alleged the social network was failing its black users.
Last week, Mark Luckie, a strategic partner manager for influencers, publicly announced his departure from the company, and shared the goodbye note he had written to his Facebook colleagues earlier in the month.
It was a highly critical memo, detailing his experiences of racism at Facebook and highlighting what he says are the company’s failures to build a more inclusive workplace that is supportive of people of colour.
“Facebook’s disenfranchisement of black people on the platform mirrors the marginalization of its black employees,” he wrote. “Too many black employees can recount stories of being aggressively accosted by campus security beyond what was necessary.”
Facebook has been reeling from successive scandals over the past year or so, from Cambridge Analytica to the spread of misinformation on the platform amid genocide in Myanmar. Luckie’s memo sparked a fresh firestorm of criticism of the company. But he subsequently discovered that the social network temporarily blocked users’ access to the post.
He wrote on Twitter on Tuesday: “Turns out Facebook took down my post challenging discrimination at the company, disabling users’ ability to share or read it.”
Turns out Facebook took down my post challenging discrimination at the company, disabling users’ ability to share or read it. Further proves my point. pic.twitter.com/XOKfNIFSs2
— Mark S. Luckie (@marksluckie) December 4, 2018
(It’s not clear how long the post was unavailable to other users; Luckie only discovered the issue had occurred on Tuesday morning, having spent the last several days moving.)
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In a statement, Facebook spokesperson Anthony Harrison said the company was investigating why it was blocked. “Mark Luckie’s post does not violate our Community Standards and is available on our site. We are looking into what happened,” he said.
There’s no indication that Facebook deliberately tried to suppress or censor Luckie’s message. Instead, it seems more likely that it was taken down as a result of overzealous moderation efforts by Facebook, given its sensitive subject – though whether this was a result of a human moderator or an automated system isn’t yet clear.
But the incident highlights the extraordinary power Facebook has to shape public debate that happens on its platform, and how apparent mistakes can have significant consequences. And it raises questions as to how frequently moderation mistakes might occur when non-high-profile users discuss sensitive subjects, those who don’t have the company or media connections to seek recourse.
In the original memo, Luckie had said that black users appeared to be unfairly targeted by Facebook’s moderation efforts, writing: “Black people are finding that their attempts to create ‘safe spaces’ on Facebook for conversation among themselves are being derailed by the platform itself. Non-black people are reporting what are meant to be positive efforts as hate speech, despite them often not violating Facebook’s terms of service. Their content is removed without notice. Accounts are suspended indefinitely.
“There is a prevailing theory among many black users that their content is more likely to be taken down on the platform than any other group. Even though the theories are mostly anecdotal, Facebook does little to dissuade people from this idea.”
While we don’t yet exactly what happened with Luckie’s post, it’s an unfortunate coincidence that it was subject to the exact same problems that he sought to highlight.
“Further proves my point,” he tweeted.
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