In the process of reporting a related story, a Facebook spokesperson provided Gizmodo with the company’s internal slides discussing its position on white nationalism and white separatism, adopted in late March. What follows is a glimpse into the confusing, often contradictory thinking of one of the most powerful and frequently inept companies on Earth.
“Under our current hate speech policy, we allow content that promotes nationalism and separatism,” the document begins, addressing a major loophole in the platform’s enforcement of hate speech, where even promotion of an ethno-state — meaning a defined geographic territory solely populated by a single race or ethnicity — was only considered a “level three” signal.
(A level one signal includes calling for violence, or actually committing a hate crime.)
The first option Facebook considered was to make no change at all, and continue allowing white nationalists and separatists (referred to in the document as WNS) to persist unchecked. “Pros: Allows for the argument that white nationalism [...] could be about something other than hate,” this option notes, worryingly. “Cons: Allows what most experts think is organised hate.”
Of course, Facebook did adopt a change to its WNS policy, the details of which were broken by Motherboard. A Facebook spokesperson told Gizmodo the company went with “option 2”, which removes explicit praise of WNS but not “other types of nationalism / separatism that aren’t inherently hateful.”
The remainder of the document touches on other, similarly confusing guidelines. Under a subsection that compares “calls for exclusion” to “statements of limited inclusion based on protected characteristics,” Facebook’s slides provide the example “Leave Up: Zulus only in this group” beside “Remove: No Zulus allowed in this group.” It notes that “a more nuanced policy could be hard to enforce or lead to claims of bias.”
Even this bare-bones policy seems easily dodged by bad actors. Several slides later “The military can make exemptions, but in general, no transgenders” is considered allowable, while a comment stating “no queer of any variety should have ever been allowed in the military” is provided as removable content.
The purpose of even bothering with these sorts of policies is to allow, for example, a women-only breast cancer support group — which most people would say could be beneficial, or at worst innocuous.
While ultimately choosing this approach, Facebook seems to recognise its weaknesses, noting: “allowable carveouts may seem arbitrary [...] allow for bias [and] won’t capture all acceptable use cases globally.”
Reviewing these slides — which weigh a variety of options, any one of which would likely leave at least some portion of Facebook’s users unhappy — it’s no surprise Mark Zuckerberg is suddenly calling on his company to be regulated. Who wouldn’t want to make policing two billion people someone else’s job?