Sure – be spiteful and hateful, but they’re watching you

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Sure – be spiteful and hateful, but they’re watching you

Facebook is cranking up its artificial intelligence to spot criminal hate speech, and the authorities are on it too

Nick Hedley

A Facebook report suggests that the prevalence of hate speech – a common issue in South Africa – is on the rise. The amount of content the social media giant took action on rose by 56% to 2.5 million posts in the first quarter. That was partly explained by improvements in Facebook’s detection methods and “real-world events” that gave rise to more hate speech, the report says.
However, while many reports were warranted, many Facebook users abused the hate speech reporting tool, said Richard Allan, Facebook’s vice-president of public policy for Europe, the Middle East and Africa. 
“Sometimes they will report things that they just don’t like. People are people and a lot of the stuff may be supporters of one football team who will report content involving another football team as hate speech. Clearly it’s not.”South Africa’s portfolio committee on justice and correctional services this week received a briefing on the Hate Crimes and Hate Speech Bill, which aims to criminalise hate crimes and speech. This comes as SA sees “increasing intolerance”, committee chairperson Mathole Motshekga said in a statement.
For the time being, Facebook will rely largely on human reviews to identify hate speech. The company hires people and then trains them in its community standards. 
Facebook was making progress in its war against malicious and inappropriate content, said Alex Schultz, Facebook’s vice president of data analytics.  “Our top priority areas are things like child-exploitation imagery, global terrorism, and non-consensual intimate imagery like revenge porn,” he said.
Facebook plans to double the size of its safety and content review team this year, and also wants to train its artificial intelligence (AI) systems to pick up more bad content before users do, said Schultz.The Nasdaq-listed firm said in May it would grow its teams focused on safety, security and content reviews from 10,000 to 20,000 people in 2018.
The company still relies heavily on these teams to review users’ reports of hate speech, although its machine-learning systems now pick up most posts containing graphic violence, nudity, terrorist propaganda, fake accounts and spam before users see them.
“Obviously none of our systems are able to find 100% of [inappropriate] content today before it’s seen by users, but that’s the aspiration,” Schultz said.
Facebook said in a report that of every 10,000 pieces of content viewed in the first quarter of 2018, about 22 to 27 posts contained graphic violence – up from 16 to 19 in the fourth quarter of 2017.
The network had to remove or place a warning in front of 3.4 million pieces of content containing graphic violence in the first quarter – nearly triple the 1.2 million items in the previous three months.
Schultz said while Facebook could not say for sure why the number of graphic violence posts rose, it believed the war in Syria was a likely explanation. He said that in the first quarter, “our artificial intelligence systems got better, so we found more of it” before users did. AI picked up 86% of all graphic violence posts before people flagged them in the first quarter, from 72% in the prior quarter.Meanwhile, AI identified 96% of posts containing nudity and sexual activity, 99.5% of terrorist propaganda, about 99% of fake accounts, and 99.7% of spam.
However, AI was only able to pick up 38% of hate speech, up from 24% in the prior quarter, as these systems find it more difficult to identify offensive language than inappropriate images, Schultz said.
Images containing symbols of terrorist groups Isis, Al Qaeda or Boko Haram, for instance, can easily be identified with technology almost as soon as they are posted.
“But with text, there’s a lot more nuance in the language. Context is incredibly important and you can see how certain words in certain countries have different meanings than in other countries.
“And certain words used when someone is reclaiming them as a slur against their ethnic group are OK, but if they’re used by someone not from that group they’re not OK.”

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