Facebook has taken a major step towards transparency and end-user education on why and how they reach decisions regarding the removal or non-removal of user-generated content many perceive as TOS prohibited hate speech.
Mr. Schrage is the Facebook Facebook VP Global Communications, Marketing and Public Policy. Per Mr. Schrage’s request the statement is being released unedited with the exception of redaction of non-corporate/personal email addresses to protect privacy.
If you want transparency, then I will be happy to respond, so long as you agree that if you quote any part of my message below you will reprint the entire email as part of the same post.
I just read your blog post ( http://briancuban.com/wiesenthal-center-releases-report-on-online-hate-proliferation/ ) and confess I feel you have somewhat distorted my comments. You imply that my statement “I feel like I am representing the internet” suggested I (or Facebook) want or seek this role. My point was exactly the opposite. I stated that I felt by my participation at the event I (and Facebook) were being asked to defend the hateful content that exists on the internet. I made clear that I completely reject any effort to put Facebook in that role — indeed, I believe that Facebook is a much safer, less hateful environment than the internet as a whole. I highlighted that NONE of the egregious websites or games spewing hate or promoting violence targeting Jews or other groups presented by Rabbi Cooper during his presentation would be permitted on Facebook, while they continue to be present on the internet and available for discovery through search and other means. I indicated that I believe the debate over holocaust denial on Facebook could be viewed as a distraction from the much bigger problem of truly targeted hate directly targeting Jews and other groups that exist throughout the web — a problem that Facebook has addressed responsibly, while other web sites and service providers (as you and Rabbi Cooper acknowledged) have not.
As I indicated during the session, Facebook’s mission is to give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected. Our strong bias is in favor of sharing and connection and, as you and Rabbi Cooper agreed, the extent of even allegedly hateful content on Facebook is a truly tiny fraction of the millions of groups and billions of communications that take place using our service. The sites that you and I disagree about have members that total in the low hundreds, compared to the more than 200 million people around the world that use Facebook every month. Moreover, consistent with our mission, we believe that the best way to fight hate is to expose it and respond to it by promoting greater sharing and connection — again, as I made clear during my presentation, many of the sites that you and others object to include members and comments expressly rejecting the groups’ efforts to deny the holocaust.
As I mentioned in my presentation, we have teams of professionals that examine allegations of inappropriate content against many criteria, not only whether it is directly hateful. The more broad criteria are listed in the Statement of Rights and Responsibilities. Our team then develops specific policies in consultation with other groups both inside and outside the company to respond to the types of reported content we see most often.
For content alleged to be hateful, the team evaluates whether the content by its own words directly degrades a person or group of people based on their membership in a group belonging to certain protected categories, including but not limited to religious affiliation.
I did not suggest that these criteria involve no subjectivity, only that they involve LESS subjectivity than the approach you seek to have us adopt. Nor did I suggest that we have developed some mechanism to achieve “binary certainty;” rather, I indicated that, consistent with our mission, we strive to achieve greater objectivity and limit the subjectivity of our assessments. We recognize that any review of content always involves judgment and subjectivity; again, the approach you would have us adopt would push us to make ever greater subjective assessments and invite ever greater disagreements and controversy.
As for advertising, we block ads from appearing beside any of the holocaust denial sites that we become aware of. We also seek to remove advertising against search results for pages or groups that seek to deny the holocaust. Of course, depending on the language these sites use we may not capture them all proactively, in which case we remove them when we are notified.
Brian, I hope this addresses your questions and look forward to hosting your visit to Facebook next month.
Vice President, Communications and Public Policy
While I have not digested and analysis all implications of Facebook’s stated position, Mr. Schrage did make one statement that I immediately take issue with. He was reiterating a position taken by Facebook head of P.R. Barry Schnitt. He stated:
“Moreover, consistent with our mission, we believe that the best way to fight hate is to expose it and respond to it by promoting greater sharing and connection”
I agree with Mr. Schrage that it is a good thing to bring hate into the open. It makes it pretty tough to fight if you don’t. Once it’s in the open, at what point however do you say this is just a bad thing in your neighborhood and take a stand? If we don’t, do we just allow a “perpetual discussion” until the numbers reach critical mass and it takes an all-out war to deal with? It seems to be that once you agree that something is bad, the last thing you want to do it help it grow by “promoting greater sharing and connection” Is that not how a virus is spread? Is a pandemic of “hatred” any less dangerous than the bird flu?
I agree with Mr. Schrage that Holocaust Denial is just a small cog in the ever-turning wheel of online hate. Does that mean that I believe it deserves no less attention? I do not. The time to fight hatred regardless of the target is when it is “fight-able” not when it has already reached critical mass. The Holocaust itself is a testament to the folly of those who wait. 11 million dead are not alone. History has proven this true over and over again.
What is the solution? I honestly don’t know. It obviously has to be one that incorporates Facebook’s core beliefs in these matters. I am open to suggestions. There are many smart committed, individuals and groups such as The Simon Wiesenthal Center and The Anti-Defamation League in constant discussions with Facebook on these issues. I suspect that whatever solution ultimately presents itself, it will be an evolving one.
I am looking forward to getting grilled on my core beliefs when I visit Facebook. I wonder if I will be the only Republican in the room….