Facebook Is Everywhere; Its Smallness Is Not Near

Facebook has launched support for Arabic in 2009 and scored a hit. Later, the service won accolades for helping mass protest known as the Arab Spring. Last year, Arabic was the third most common language on the platform, with people in the Middle East and North Africa spending more hours per day on Facebook services than users in any region.

Coming to understand and polish the Arabic interior, Facebook less successful, according to two internal studies last year. One, a detailed account of Facebook’s management in Arabic, warns that the company’s human and automated reviewers are struggling to understand the different dialects used across the East and North Africa. The result: In a region ravaged by political instability, the company wrongly censors benign posts for promoting terrorism while exposing Arab speakers to hate speech they don’t see.

“Arabic is not a language,” says the study. “It’s better to think of it as a family of languages ​​— most of them don’t understand each other.”

Documents on Facebook foibles with Arabic about a tranche of internal material, known as The Facebook Papers, that shows the company struggles — or neglects — to manage its platform in areas far from California headquarters, in regions where the majority of its users live. Many of these markets are in economically disadvantaged parts of the world, plagued by the kinds of ethnic tensions and political violence often magnified on social media.

The documents were disclosed by the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided by Congress in redact form through the legal attorney for the ex-Facebook employee. Frances Haugen. The redacted versions were reviewed by a consortium of news organizations, including WIRED.

The collection offers a limited look within the social network but reveals enough to illustrate the huge challenge posed to Facebook’s success. A site for rating the appearance of female students at Harvard has become a global platform used by nearly 3 billion people in more than 100 languages. Fully curated such service impossible, but the company’s protections for its users are even more unfair in the poorest countries. Facebook users who speak languages ​​like Arabic, Pashto, or Armenian are effectively second class citizens of the world’s largest social network.

Some of Facebook’s failures detailed in the documents involve really tough technical problems. Used by the company artificial intelligence to help manage the content of the problem – on Facebook’s scale people can’t check every post. But computer scientists say machine learning Algorithms do not yet understand the nuances of speech. Other shortcomings appear to be reflected in Facebook’s options, which generated more than $ 29 billion in revenue last year, part of which and how much investment.

For example, Facebook states nearly two-thirds of the people who use the service do so in a language other than English and that it regulates content in the same way around the world. A company spokesperson said it has 15,000 people reviewing content in more than 70 languages ​​and publishing its Community Standards in 47. But Facebook offers its service in more than 110 languages; users post more.

A December 2020 memo on combating hate speech in Afghanistan warns that users will not be able to easily report problematic content because Facebook has not translated its community standards into Pashto or Dari, both official language of the country. Online forms for reporting hate speech are only partially translated into two languages, with many words presented in English. In Pashto, also widely spoken in Pakistan, the memo says Facebook’s translation of the term hate speech “seems inaccurate.”

“When combating hate speech on Facebook, our goal is to reduce its spread, which is the amount of it that people see,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. The company recently released numbers suggests that on average, it has declined globally since mid-2020. ”This is the most comprehensive effort to eliminate hate speech by any major consumer technology company, and while we have a lot of work to do we remains committed to getting it right. “

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