Are Facebook moderators “pro-Russian?” Ukrainian president and Facebook founder involved in online controversy

Is Facebook’s moderation team pro-Russian? Ukrainian president Petro Poroshenko and Mark Zuckerberg in person got involved in the controversy last week after thousands of Ukrainian users accused the social network of taking down or blocking posts and accounts from Ukraine.

These takedowns were politically motivated and the posts were being reported for violations by masses of “Kremlin supporters,” these Ukrainian users believe.

For example, a user reported that posts like this photo of a Ukrainian soldier’s daughter were allegedly being flagged as “nudity.”

Ukrainian girl FB controversy

The commenter also linked to a petition suggesting Facebook should pay more attention to its Ukrainian segment and consider opening a regional office.

The issue was taken to a new level  when Ukraine’s presidential aide Dmitry Shymkiv stated that Ukrainian users were being overseen by moderators swayed by the Kremlin’s political agenda “in Facebook office in Russia.”

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko himself a personal appeal from his Facebook account to open an office in Ukraine.

No “hate speech and ethnic slurs” on Facebook

Zuckerberg abundantly addressed the issue on May 14 during his Townhall Q&A session, live streamed online. He said he “looked into this personally because this question had 45,000 votes on it” – without mentioning, however, the presidential message.

Facebook’s CEO found that the Ukrainian posts taken down included elements of hate speech towards Russians: “Other folks in our community reported that in, and we looked at those and made the determination that some of those posts included ethnic slurs against some Russian folks, and we took down those posts.”

“I think we did the right thing according to our policies, in taking down those posts and I agree that we must not support hate speech,” said Zuckerberg.

He conceded only “one mistake.” “When we reached out to some of the folks to tell them about the content that we had taken down, we accidentally told them that the content had been taken down because the posts contained nudity, instead of hate speech.”

The mistake was due to “a bug in the software,” which Facebook fixed.

Zuckerberg denied rumors that Ukrainian Facebook users are moderated out of the Russian office. “When people write in and report content, we try to have folks who speak that language review it. We have a European headquarters in Dublin, where we have folks who speak a lot of different languages around the world look at the different content, and that’s what we did here.”

Facebook’s founder did not sound encouraging about a Ukrainian Facebook office. “You know, over time it is something that we might consider,” he said.

Facebook defenseless?

Russian blogger and journalist Sergei Parkhomenko told AFP that Russian Internet “trolls” monitor content critical of  government policies.

These “trolls,” which he describes as an “online army,” instigate a wave of complaints against any user. This leads to account blockages, Parkhomenko believes.

“Unfortunately, Facebook is defenseless” against such manipulations, Parkhomenko said.

Parkhomenko recently wrote a post about Russia’s alleged involvement in the shooting down of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over eastern Ukraine last July. After the post became popular, Facebook blocked it, Parkhomenko said, even though it did not violate any community standards, according to him. “The topic led to a (troll) attack.”

Administrators later apologized and unblocked the post, but the same text, reposted by Parkhomenko’s wife, was blocked again the next day, the Russian blogger said.

Commenting on Sergei Parkhomenko’s post deletion, Facebook spokeswoman Sally Aldous told RFE/RL that the post was removed “mistakenly,” and that the FB team “deals with thousands of reports each day,” so mistakes do occasionally happen.

Topics: Cyberwar, International, Internet, News, Social networks, Ukraine-Russia, Ukraine-USA
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