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Hard questions about Facebook, from Facebook

July 10, 2017

Facebook app

Photo: Eduardo Woo (CC)

If you ran Facebook, what would you change? And would that make the social network better on the whole?

Let’s find out.

Facebook has launched its Hard Questions outreach program, looking for answers on complex issues, such as fighting terrorism and hate speech. The company has also posted articles on how it currently handles these areas, including techniques and drawbacks.

Anyone can email their responses to the questions to hardquestions@fb.com. I’ve offered my solutions below — feel free to weigh in on the comments.

1. How should platforms approach keeping terrorists from spreading propaganda online? Reddit faced this challenge for years. After a laissez-faire approach, the company decided to crack down on troublesome groups — for example, /r/The_Donald.

I would advocate a two-stage approach. First, label all propaganda as such, but allow it to remain visible on Facebook. If that approach appears to fail, move on to the second stage: Removing it consistently.

2. After a person dies, what should happen to their online identity? The profile is amended with a note that the user is deceased (after verification by staff member) and locked till ownership is determined by probate or local applicable law (which probably doesn’t exist yet in most places).

3. How aggressively should social media companies monitor and remove controversial posts and images from their platforms? Who gets to decide what’s controversial, especially in a global community with a multitude of cultural norms? Companies should respond to flagged posts/images in a timely fashion, using local teams to make the call. They should also offer users the option to toggle between access to safe, moderate or all posts, giving us the power to pre-filter content (with all users younger than 18 set to “safe”).

4. Who gets to define what’s false news — and what’s simply controversial political speech? Facebook once had in-house editors to make these decision, as news organizations do. Bring them back. And as a backup, conduct regular polls among volunteer users who identify their political affiliations.

5. Is social media good for democracy? It’s neither good nor bad — it’s a communications channel. Political movements use phones for polling, push polling, propaganda, voter drives and more.

6. How can we use data for everyone’s benefit, without undermining people’s trust? Be transparent and be skeptical. Show everyone how the data is collected, analyzed and used. Trust people to evaluate those methods and the data. Always ask questions about the integrity of the data and the methodology — blind faith leads to poor decisions and outcomes.

7. How should young Internet users be introduced to new ways to express themselves in a safe environment? I’m not a parent, but isn’t this something that parents, teachers, pastors and coaches already do? Don’t we teach children how to express themselves positively and effectively, whether it’s online or in real life?

Facebook has been lax in reigning in damaging content. While it’s important for the network to listen carefully to users, it’s more important for it to take action and share the results.

I’d rather see the fringe users flee than everyday users like you and me.

What do you think? Share a comment below.

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