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Facebook’s alleged secret censorship directives leaked in new report

Photo-illustration (REUTERS/dado Ruvic).

A new report claims to reveal for the first time ever, Facebook’s secret for removing the contents of the policy.

Excerpts of internal documents that the company allegedly hands to both own employees and third-party content moderators were provided to the German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung of non-identified sources. Although the company’s guidelines touched on its web site, the information that it provides to its employees provides a lot more detail.

The chapter that stands out regarding Facebook’s stance on hate speech, an issue that itself has become a matter of contention in Germany, where the social network is currently facing a lawsuit regarding its alleged inaction on the case.

The documents reveal a complicated love-hate policies with a number of loopholes in the law as a result of the criteria that Facebook uses to determine what is hateful rhetoric.

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Facebook does not allow “verbal aggression” on a “protected category,” according to the documents. This self-determined categories are currently based on a number of factors, including: race, religion, gender, race, ethnicity, sexual orientation, national origin, disability or serious illness. Some of these groups contain sub-categories that get additional protection (for example, under “age” criteria such as “youth” and “seniors” to take precedence).

A summary at the end of the hate chapter is where things start to get a little confused. A sentence, which allegedly using an expletive followed by a reference to a religious affiliation (for example: “f*cking Muslims”) is not allowed. But it’s not for the term “migrants” as migrants are said to be only a “quasi-protected category.” In addition, Facebook reportedly is the number of messages that can be construed as hateful against immigrants under certain circumstances. For example, a statement such as “immigrants are dirty” is permitted, whereas “immigrants are dirty” is not.

We reached out to Facebook to verify the accuracy of the documents, but did not immediately receive a response. If they don’t turn out to be official, then the above examples could raise alarm bells for the German authorities, since the term “migrants” is just added to the list of criteria following the pressure of public opinion in the country. Earlier this week, the German Minister of Justice Heiko Maas also insisted on an immediate approach of hate speech disseminated through social media sites, such as Facebook.

A related report in the same German newspaper, provides an in-depth look at the inner workings of Facebook ‘ s Berlin-based content team of moderators. In the various members of the company’s 600-strong staff (which includes employees contracted out of a Bertelsmann business services unit) claim to have suffered psychological problems as a result of the material that they were exposed. “I did things that made me seriously question my faith in humanity,” said an anonymous employee. The report claims that the concerned employees were not provided access to professional help.

Another employee describes the arduous guidelines of Facebook, reportedly, in the place: “The rules are almost impossible to understand. I have said that my team leader: this is crazy! The picture is full of blood and cruelty, no one should have to see that. But he said: that is just your opinion. You need to try and think about what Facebook wants. It is expected that We think of as machines.”

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