Content Moderation Is Impossible: Facebook's Attempts To Block Mask Gouging Took Down DIY Face Mask Instructions

from the impossibility-theorem dept

Content moderation at scale is impossible to do well. The latest example? Facebook's rules to takedown content deemed to be people trying to price gouge medical supplies like face masks resulted in tutorials on how to make your own face masks being taken down:

Facebook’s systems threatened to ban the organizers of hand-sewn masks from posting or commenting, they said, landing them in what is colloquially known as “Facebook Jail.” They said it also threatened to delete the groups. The issue has affected do-it-yourself mask makers in states like Pennsylvania, Illinois and California, they said.

As the NY Times notes, Facebook, like most other social media sites, has been aggressively trying to block price gouging medical supplies:

At the top of its list were ads for masks, hand sanitizer and others looking to profit from the sale of safety equipment. Facebook banned advertising for such equipment last month, and has taken down nearly all posts related to the sale of masks across its Craigslist-like section, called Marketplace.

But as the company ramped up efforts to crack down on scammers and other miscreants, volunteer coordinators may have been caught in the crossfire.

“The automated systems we set up to prevent the sale of medical masks needed by health workers have inadvertently blocked some efforts to donate supplies,” Facebook said in a statement. “We apologize for this error and are working to update our systems to avoid mistakes like this going forward. We don’t want to put obstacles in the way of people doing a good thing.”

This is not an attack on Facebook, but, once again, it's important to recognize just how impossible it is to do these things well, especially at scale, and especially in the midst of a pandemic where things are changing daily. With the US only changing its recommendations on face masks last week, demand for any kind of face mask, including homemade ones, has sky-rocketed. And if you trying to build systems that are trained to look out for posts "advertising" things having to do with face masks -- which was important in the first few weeks of the pandemic -- they're inevitably going to lead to false positives flagging those who are actually trying to help.

Hide this

Thank you for reading this Techdirt post. With so many things competing for everyone’s attention these days, we really appreciate you giving us your time. We work hard every day to put quality content out there for our community.

Techdirt is one of the few remaining truly independent media outlets. We do not have a giant corporation behind us, and we rely heavily on our community to support us, in an age when advertisers are increasingly uninterested in sponsoring small, independent sites — especially a site like ours that is unwilling to pull punches in its reporting and analysis.

While other websites have resorted to paywalls, registration requirements, and increasingly annoying/intrusive advertising, we have always kept Techdirt open and available to anyone. But in order to continue doing so, we need your support. We offer a variety of ways for our readers to support us, from direct donations to special subscriptions and cool merchandise — and every little bit helps. Thank you.

–The Techdirt Team

Filed Under: content moderation, content moderation at scale, covid-19, diy, facemasks, hoarding, masnick's impossibility theorem, price gouging

Reader Comments

Subscribe: RSS

View by: Time | Thread

  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Apr 2020 @ 3:29am

    Re: Re: Governments have a terrible history

    Assuming that you are in the US, you are in a country where regulatory authorities have been captured and do the bidding of industry, rather than protect the consumers, due to a failure of checks and balances.

Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Subscribe to the Techdirt Daily newsletter

Comment Options:

  • Use markdown. Use plain text.
  • Make this the First Word or Last Word. No thanks. (get credits or sign in to see balance)    
  • Remember name/email/url (set a cookie)

Follow Techdirt
Special Affiliate Offer

Essential Reading
Techdirt Deals
Report this ad  |  Hide Techdirt ads
Techdirt Insider Chat
Recent Stories

This site, like most other sites on the web, uses cookies. For more information, see our privacy policy. Got it

Email This

This feature is only available to registered users. Register or sign in to use it.