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Monday, December 6, 2021
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As hate content spiked, cost cuts at Facebook hit its review team

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As inflammatory and divisive content increased across most markets including India, it was the global team responsible for reviewing hate speech at Facebok that faced cost cuts.

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To reduce expenses, three potential levers were proposed internally at the social media company — reviewing fewer user reports, reviewing fewer proactively detected pieces of content, and reviewing fewer appeals, according to an internal strategy note dated August 6, 2019. In effect, the clean-up was the casualty.

As The Indian Express reported on Thursday, it was in July 2020 that an internal document pointed to a “marked increase” in “anti-Muslim” rhetoric on the platform in the preceding 18 months in India, Facebook’s biggest market by the number of users.

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“Everyone understands that the cost reductions are coming no matter what we do: teams will be taking a haircut on their CO capacity…,” said the August 6, 2019 note, titled ‘Cost-control: a hate speech exploration’. CO — community operations — refers to the contract labour force at Facebook.

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“The question is not how to cut capacity, but how far we can cut without eliminating our ability to review user reports and do proactive work,” the note said.

The note discussed specific ways to employ the three levers to cut costs — including ignoring “benign user reports” and asking users to “be more thoughtful before submitting a request for re-review”.

The need to review fewer user reports stemmed from the fact that while Facebook reviewed the majority of user reports, it found that the action rate on reactively reported content was “at best 25%”.

The document pointed out that nearly three-quarters of the costs incurred on reviewing content were on account of reactive capacity — meaning the capacity used to review content that was already flagged by users or third parties. Only 25% of the review costs were incurred on proactive capacity.

“In H1 (first half, January-June 2019), we worked hard in accordance with the ‘Hate 2019 H1 capacity reduction plan’ to significantly increase the volume of actions we can take while maintaining the same levels of capacity… We need to significantly increase the rigour with which we make decisions on how to spend our human review capacity across the board, and indeed in case of hate speech we need to cut a significant amount of our current capacity in order to fund new initiatives,” the strategy note said.

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