Facebook 'Hate Speech' Rules Protect Races And Sexes — So, Yes, White Men Are Going To Be 'Protected'

from the sticking-up-for-whitey dept

ProPublica recently obtained some internal documents related to Facebook’s hate speech moderation. Hate speech — as applied to Facebook — isn’t a statutory term. Much of what Facebook removes is still protected speech. But Facebook is a private company and is able to remove whatever it wants without acting as a censorial arm of the government.

That being said, there’s a large number of government officials around the planet who feel Facebook should be doing more to remove hate speech — all of it based on very subjective views as to what that term should encompass.

It’s impossible to make everyone happy. So, Facebook has decided to apply a set of rules to its moderation that appear to lead to completely wrong conclusions about what posts should be removed. A single image included in the ProPublica article went viral. But the explanation behind it did not. The rules Facebook uses for moderation lead directly to increased protections for a historically well-protected group.

[If you can’t read/see the image, the slide says “Which of the below subsets do we protect?” with the choices being “female drivers,” “black children,” and “white men.” The answer — to the great internet consternation of many — is: “white men.”]

Given Facebook’s general inability to moderate other forms of “offensiveness” (mainly female breasts) without screwing it all up, the answer to this quiz question seems like more Facebook moderation ineptitude. But there’s more to it than this one question. The rest of the quiz is published at ProPublica and it shows the “white men” answer is, at least, internally consistent with Facebook’s self-imposed rules.

Facebook must define “hate speech” before it can attempt to moderate it, since there are no statutes (at least in the United States) that strictly apply to this content. Here’s how Facebook defines it:

Protected category + attack = hate speech

These are the protected categories:

  • Sex
  • Race
  • Religious affiliation
  • Ethnicity
  • National origin
  • Sexual orientation
  • Gender identity
  • Serious disability/disease

Here’s what’s not considered “protected” by Facebook:

  • Social class
  • Occupation
  • Continental origin
  • Political ideology
  • Appearance
  • Religions
  • Age
  • Countries

“White men” have both race and sex going for them. Any “attack” on white men can be deleted by Facebook. “Black children” only have race. Age is not a protected category. An attack on black men would be deleted but black children are, apparently, fair game. The same goes for white children. In the category “female drivers,” only the “female” part is considered protected.

The quiz goes on to explain other facets of hate speech moderation. Calling for acts of physical violence against protected categories is hate speech. If any component of the group targeted is “unprotected,” the call for violence will be allowed to stay online. The rules also cover “degrading generalization,” “dismissive” speech, cursing, and slurs. If any of these target a protected class (or quasi-protected class, i.e., migrants whose nationality may be in flux), moderators can take down the posts. The QPCs have only slightly more protection than entirely unprotected classes, so they can receive more posted abuse before hate speech protections kick in.

These rules lead to all sorts of things that seem unfair, if not completely wrong:

In the wake of a terrorist attack in London earlier this month, a U.S. congressman wrote a Facebook post in which he called for the slaughter of “radicalized” Muslims. “Hunt them, identify them, and kill them,” declared U.S. Rep. Clay Higgins, a Louisiana Republican. “Kill them all. For the sake of all that is good and righteous. Kill them all.”

Higgins’ plea for violent revenge went untouched by Facebook workers who scour the social network deleting offensive speech.

But a May posting on Facebook by Boston poet and Black Lives Matter activist Didi Delgado drew a different response.

“All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” Delgado wrote. The post was removed and her Facebook account was disabled for seven days.

Religions are unprotected. Races are. That’s why this happens. At best, it would seem like both should be taken down, or the less violent of the two remain intact. But that’s not the way the rules work. People who criticize Facebook’s moderation efforts are asking for something worse than is already in place. To right the perceived wrongs of everything listed above, the rules would have to be replaced by subjectivity — setting up every moderator, all over the world, with their own micro-fiefdom to run as they see fit. If people don’t like it now, just wait until thousands of additional biases are injected into the mix.

That’s the other issue: Facebook is a worldwide social platform. Protecting white men may seem pointless here in the US, but the United States isn’t the only country with access to Facebook.

“The policies do not always lead to perfect outcomes,” said Monika Bickert, head of global policy management at Facebook. “That is the reality of having policies that apply to a global community where people around the world are going to have very different ideas about what is OK to share.”

This is the unfortunate byproduct of a job that’s impossible to do to everyone’s satisfaction. Blanket rules may seem dumb on a case-by-case basis, but the alternative would be even worse. If a company is going to proactively protect sexes and races, it’s inevitably going to have to stand up for white men, even if the general feeling is white men are in no need of extra protection.

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Comments on “Facebook 'Hate Speech' Rules Protect Races And Sexes — So, Yes, White Men Are Going To Be 'Protected'”

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Ninja (profile) says:

The proper path of action would be to let all speech flow and have law enforcement and the platform work together to get the ones who actually committed crimes? You know, apply the law.

As for others, shame them, mock them for their hate speech, for their racism, make them feel very ashamed and out of place but heck leave the platforms alone.

We need some really decentralized platform that nobody can moderate. Sure there will be hideous stuff in there but we need to learn how to live with such things and GO AFTER THE ONES PRODUCING IT either via what the law says or by flooding them with positive speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Hmm that sounds suspiciously reasonable. I seem to recall someone, possibly here on td suggesting that terrorist materials be LEFT on the internet so that law enforcement can track an monitor the people who are actually likely to cause harm, instead of censoring the internet, and forcing them to spend more time communicating in places most law enforcement isn’t aware of or have access to.

Cdaragorn (profile) says:

Re: Re:

I can agree with a platform that leaves moderation up to the public using it, but shaming and mocking people for speech you hate is never the right way to approach it.
It will never get them to change for one. They’ll just dig in deeper whether they’re wrong or not. The goal should be to help them see your point of view of what they said. Breeding hatred is only going to make the problem worse on both sides.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s a good thought, but unfortunately providing platforms for these types just allows things to fester and spread. Reddit has had quite a few problems where they tried to stay hands off, but those platforms built off each other and countless times work to spread their bile on the rest of the site to the point where they had to be shut down at the source.

These people need to see consequences to get it through their skulls. I’m not talking legal consequences, but ones where society tells them where to stick their backwards views.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

It’s like white supremacists shaming the rest of us for advocating racial equality. Don’t you think they already do it? How much reach does it have? Sure there will be times where the predominant prejudice will have more voice but by not meddling with free speech you’ll let opposing forces slowly reach people instead of having the prevalent mindset crush what it disagrees with.

anonymous says:

Re: Re:

I’m fine with that. As social people, we’re going to protect the children ourselves. There are far more dangerous things that can happen to people than getting their accounts locked – just threaten kids to find out.

If you’re going to have any “social justice”, you have to protect everyone, not just create another disastrous pyramid of power where one group stomps on the head of another.

Religion is an idea. Ideas should evolve on their merits. People cannot change their genetics, but they can change their minds.

btr1701 (profile) says:


I’m having trouble understanding the violence part.

Why does a call for violence against someone also have to include a protected class for it to be forbidden? Violence is an action and behavior, not speech. Wouldn’t it be logical and rational to have a ban on that no matter who is target?

Apparently Facebook is saying it’s okay to gin people to murder one person but not another based on the color of their skin?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Violence

I also think calls to violence don’t really need a “hate speech component” to be acted upon. Surely most countries have laws against that sort of thing, anyway.

>Apparently Facebook is saying it’s okay to gin people to murder one person but not another based on the color of their skin?

Seems to be even stupider than that: don’t go after the people for any of their “protected” features and you’re OK. Even though the example provided should clearly be protected by their rules.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Violence

Seems to be even stupider than that: don’t go after the people for any of their "protected" features and you’re OK.

That’s not what the slides say. They say if you don’t go after someone entirely for their "protected" features you’re OK.

Easy workaround to make anything not count as hate speech: append a statement excluding infants from the group you’re targeting. Then you’ve got one non-protected feature, so everything is fine.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Violence

Violence is an action and behavior, not speech. Wouldn’t it be logical and rational to have a ban on that no matter who is target?

Violence doesn’t occur on Facebook, so how could they ban it? They can only ban, or not, speech about/advocating violence.

Apparently Facebook is saying it’s okay to gin people to murder one person

Only under the "hate speech" policy. A specific and credible threat would likely be removed by virtue of it being illegal, even if not classified as hate speech.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Violence

Given that pacifism is not the default philosophy in our society I think that banning all calls to violence would be an extraordinary measure. Basically you’d disallow people expressing the idea that waging a war against anyone at all is the right thing.

I mean, I myself am a pacifist, but even I would be kind of offended if someone was banned from somewhere for suggesting that maybe military action against ISIS would be a good thing to do, no matter my own stance on the issue.

Anonymous Coward says:

"White men" have both race and sex going for them. Any "attack" on white men can be deleted by Facebook. "Black children" only have race. Age is not a protected category. An attack on black men would be deleted but black children are, apparently, fair game.

So basically, think of the children? In a less disingenuous way than say, politicians, usually go for it, but still…
There’s not enough "protecting" to go around, though? I’m pretty sure enough people, within and without Facebook will come to the defence of children anyway. Removing hate speech against white men shouldn’t harm the children and they can still be protected just as well from hate speech against their ethnicity, nationality, race, etc and any combination of those.

Religions are unprotected. Races are. That’s why this happens.

What?! Maybe I have my terminology wrong, but isn’t Muslim a "Religion Affiliation", which would be protected, to the unprotected "Religion" of Islam? (Protected and Unprotected, here, in the terms put forth in the article, of course)
To my eyes it seems both statements in the example given should have been moderated by the existing rules.

dominic (profile) says:

Detecting hate speech

The detection of "hate speech" with mostly automated machine learning or AI techniques (the only practical, scalable way to do this) , requires the problem to be learnable. If a group of reasonable human evaluators cannot substantially agree on what constitutes hate speech, then predictive models cannot be built to do so.

The author inadvertently provided a perfect example at the end of the article:

If a company is going to proactively protect sexes and races, it’s inevitably going to have to stand up for white men, even if the general feeling is white men are in no need of extra protection.

I do not believe for a moment our author intended this statement to be racist or sexist, but I’m certain many intelligent people would disagree.

If intelligent, well-meaning people cannot agree, how is a machine learning model going to sort it out?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Detecting hate speech

Being able to deal with (or detect) a thing requires you to be able to define it. Any programmer worth his keyboard (or engineer worth his paper) knows not to start a solution before understanding the problem.

If nobody can agree on the definition of hate speech, let alone when and how it’s harmful…?

Anonymous Coward says:

[i]“All white people are racist. Start from this reference point, or you’ve already failed,” Delgado wrote.[/i]

That’s now among the most racist things I’ve ever read or heard.

Racism is self-perpetuating. If we stop inciting people to racism then it will eventually die out. Mostly. Posts like the above do nothing to help that, quite the opposite in fact. Consider this: If racism is frequently on your mind you are more than likely the bigger racist. Not everything bad that happens to you is due to racism no matter what color your skin is. Thinking that it is means you are the racist.

The problem starts at home. If you want change then BE the change, don’t feed into the problem.

Anonymous Coward says:

Have you noticed that when it comes to protecting people, there’s an unequal slant towards white men? How is it that every article talks about protecting minorities, black people, latinos, illegal immigrants (notice that there is a reason they are called ILLEGAL), women (whites and blacks), law enforcement but when it comes to white men, we are all victimized.

Even Tim Cushing’s article seeks to victimize white men. Notice the obvious click bait article title. I don’t fault Facebook for this. It’s time that we stop victimizing everybody, not just a small segment of our society.

If you ask me, we should be turning that hatred to those very people, groups or organizations who are on such an obvious “let’s turn our hatred toward ALL white men”.

Why don’t we prosecute, to the fullest extent of the law, celebrities who threaten the life of the president of this country instead of giving them a slap on the wrist. Prosecute Kathy Griffith and Madonna. Any normal person would be arrested, tossed in jail, prosecuted and locked up in a federal prison. If these groups are so intent on acting hateful toward white men, then maybe it’s time to show them what being a victim is about.

You know.

Lock them in a room with Chanty Binx, the self proclaimed Queen Bitch of Nazi Feminism (or is that fascism).

Anonymous Coward says:

As someone who spent many years in the Wild West of Usenet (which BTW Google hosts a 20-year archive of every post ever made) I just don’t quite see what the fuss is all about. Usenet’s problem was that it was like a giant public graffiti wall, completely uncensored and unmanaged, and as a basically an “honor system” vulnerable to all sorts of annoying shenanigans by people who chose to break the completely-unenforced rules.

Yet somehow we managed to make it work, even in the most divisive and emotionally charged discussion groups.

There is one major difference in Usenet’s vs. Facebook’s approaches. In Usenet, each one of us basically self-censored the content that reached our newsreaders so we would not have to see the things we didn’t want to see. In Facebook, Big Brother Zuckerberg decides what content is fit for our eyes to see.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Sticks and stones

The whole concept of crime has been largely rewritten in recent years. It used to be that you committed an offense against another person based on what you actually did, but now you can break the law based on nothing more than how you make a person FEEL. Basically laws have shifted from a paternal mindset to a maternal mindset.

Stalking laws are exactly this, and amazingly, even “attempted stalking” is a commonly charged “thought” “crime” — which is basically all about making a person feel like she is being stalked (and thus fearful of being assaulted or murdered, even if those fears are unfounded) but without there being the presence of actions that fit the legal definition of stalking.

Co-worker sexual harassment is another common (and generally expensive) “feelings” violation. The list these days is endless.

cattress (profile) says:


Dear Facebook,
I have already taken advantage of the assorted account settings to unfriend, unfollow, and block bigoted people from my social circle; I also set my visibility to prevent these unsavory types from directly reaching or looking in on me. Please do not censor anyone because not only would I prefer to determine whether or not I wish to keep someone in my social circle by seeing the supposed “hate-speech” and the context it was used, but I do not want to unknowingly associate with someone whose vulgar posts have been scrubbed away like they never happened. Facebook may be forced to do this in other nations, but the US prefers self-defense.

cattress (profile) says:

On the other hand

I would like Facebook to help me otherwise avoid being triggered, as I could be a danger to myself or others. For instance, whenever I am cyberstalking my ex- a white male- I will need fb to remove any posts or status updates that indicate he is in a new relationship, getting married, has a successful career or is in anyway, even momentarily happy without me. Please add 40lbs to his photos and 60lbs to any females in his photos.
And those smug people who want to rub their happiness in my face, announcing engagements, pregnancies, or worst of all- sharing pics of their tropical vacations with them shamelessly posing in a swimsuit- I will go postal if I have to look at one more “happy” announcement. So purge that stuff from my view because it offends me and forces me to binge on oreos, ben & jerrys, and cheap wine.

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