Facebook Listening to Lesbians
Jul 11, 2017 — We just had a really productive conversation with Facebook. I can’t believe I just typed that, but it is true. In a 45-minute discussion with a spokesperson who works with the Communications Team on content policy issues, we laid everything out on the table, and we were treated with respect and given answers to questions we have been asking repeatedly for the last few weeks. It’s okay if you are skeptical. We were very skeptical going into this. As most of you know, neither Liz nor I, are pushovers. So, if this spokesperson did a classic corporate number on us, she is very good. But we don’t think that’s what happened.
On July 5th, 2017 we sent our Facebook contact a 51-page PDF filled with screencaps of deleted posts and banned women. This contact also suggested a conference call for a few days later to discuss the bannings and all of the questions and concerns we have been raising at Listening 2 Lesbians. In the interim, she worked through the list and women slowly started to see deleted posts reappear with apology, and bans end early. In the meantime, she was also reading our articles and our response to Facebook Hard Questions, which she said had been read and discussed by multiple people at Facebook. Basically, she came into the discussion with an understanding of what our concerns were and a desire to work with us to address these issues. We believe she came to this discussion in good faith. Immediately prior to our conversation we sent her an additional PDF with more screencaps.
How the Deletions and Bans Happen
Our discussion started with a clarification of how the Community Operations Team really works, the role of the new AI and what has been happening these past several weeks with regards to the word “dyke”. To start, Facebook does not consider “dyke” a banned word, but admits that the content reviewers are making major mistakes with understanding the importance of the word “dyke” to the lesbian community and the proper context for its usage.
There are two ways a post is flagged: it is reported by another Facebook user, or it is flagged by the AI. Either way, the spokesperson says an actual human being, the content reviewer, reviews the post and makes the decision on whether or not it violates community standards. We asked about suspiciously quick deletions/bannings and questioned how a content reviewer could get to them so fast and she said she did not know and needs to examine specific instances to determine what happened. We will continue to follow up on that.
Facebook is aware that users have been testing their system by just typing “dyke” or typing it over and over again. While they understand our desire to do this, their spokesperson said these particular kinds of posts are too void of context for their reviewers. They are not always able to tell if the word is directed AT someone, or a group, or if it is a positive pronouncement. We had been thinking about this ahead of her mentioning it, and felt that this was a reasonable concern that we, as users, might consider going forward. So, while Facebook is admitting that it has been struggling with how to continue the positive pro-dyke communications, we may want to reevaluate using it with absolutely no context at all.
What is Facebook Doing about It?
As Facebook has been getting more information from us they have been working on ways to fix the problem. According to the spokesperson, her team has been examining the posts we send them, they have been gathering data and retraining content reviewers on how to appropriately evaluate the word “dyke” in a post. They are also bringing in “subject matter experts” to specifically address the use of reclaimed words, not only in the lesbian community, but in other communities as well. She also restated that Facebook is hiring 3000 more content reviewers to better handle the load.
We talked quite a bit about the new AI used to locate hate speech in user posts. She told us that when the AI flags a post it is not deleted right away. It is first sent to a content reviewer for evaluation. Facebook is now saying that the AI is not ready to be used alone. They are now looking at the issues being raised with their use of Protected and Unprotected Categories. She said they are aware of the problems and are working on it.
What about the Petition?
We made three demands of Facebook in our petition and we feel that Facebook is now attempting to meet those demands.
We are asking for everyone’s support in calling on Facebook to end their discriminatory practice of banning women for using the word “dyke” in a self-referential manner and/or as a positive expression of our culture. We also reject the idea that we must use a hashtag in front of our identity in order to not get banned. We demand they follow their own stated policy, and allow us to use our own word in order to avoid restricting our ability to express ourselves on Facebook.
The Facebook spokesperson has said they have not banned the word “dyke” and hold only the intention of targeting actual hate speech. They are working to put policy into proper practice.
We are also calling on Facebook to do an investigation into the practices of their Community Operations Team, the content reviewers responsible for answering reports, scanning user posts, and carrying out bans and deletions. We demand that Facebook determine if any of their employees responsible for judging user content are showing a bias against women and lesbians. We call on Facebook to terminate the employment of any individual that has intentionally targeted women and lesbians for their beliefs and/or because they hate women and lesbians. We believe this investigation should also be conducted with regards to other minority groups as well.
According to our contact who works on the team responsible for investigating Community Operations Team practices and content policy issues, they are investigating what has happened, why so many mistakes were made and ways to fix those mistakes so they don’t happen again. They are determining if any content reviewers need retraining and that retraining is already occurring. She has asked us all to continue the dialog with her through this process and to continue to bring forward evidence of deletions and bans that should not have happened.
Finally, we are calling on Facebook to fix their hate speech algorithms to recognize the importance of the word “dyke” in the lesbian culture and to strengthen their approach to recognizing and addressing actual hate speech against lesbians. While we are just one minority group affected by these policies, we feel other minority groups are similarly affected. We ask for your support in settling this dispute with Facebook.
According to the spokesperson, Facebook is aware of this ongoing issue and is working on the algorithms to find ways that do not punish minority groups that use reclaimed words.
At this time, we believe Facebook is making efforts to rectify the dyke ban situation. We believe that our contact engaged with us in good faith and is truly interested in working with us to improve policy and procedure at Facebook. WE WILL REMAIN VIGILANT. Listening 2 Lesbians will continue discussions with Facebook about issues the lesbian community encounters on their platform. We will also try to foster new lines of communication between Facebook and the lesbian community who use their platform
At this time, we ask that women continue to send in a screen cap of posts they had deleted for the use of the word “dyke” along with their profile url. Please send those to email@example.com. She will be sending those to Facebook regularly. We also encourage all lesbians to research and find paths of communication with Facebook. If requested, we will assist in this process as much as possible.
At this time, Listening 2 Lesbians believes we have received satisfactory answers to our demands. We will continue to monitor the situation and we hope you do too.
We thank everyone for their support! Petition signers, sharers, law experts, human rights advocates, journalists, agitators; you all helped make this happen! We extend a special thank you to those that took extra steps to push this issue forward. We could not have done any of this without all of you!
Lisa & Liz
Listening 2 Lesbians
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