Let's Talk About 'Neutrality' -- And How Math Works

from the you-don't-want-moderation-neutrality dept

So if the First Amendment protects site moderation and curation decisions, why are we even talking about “neutrality?”

It’s because some of the bigger tech companies -- I’m looking at you, Google and Facebook -- naively assumed good faith when asked about “neutrality” by congressional committees. They took the question as inquiring whether they apply neutral content moderation principles, rather than as Act I in a Kabuki play where bad-faith politicians and pundits would twist this as meaning that the tech companies promised “scrupulous adherence to political neutrality” (and that Act II, as described below, would involve cherry-picking anecdotes to try to show that Google and Facebook were lying, and are actually bastions of conversative-hating liberaldom).

And here’s the thing -- Google, Twitter, and Facebook probably ARE pretty damn scrupulously neutral when it comes to political content (not that it matters, because THE FIRST AMENDMENT, but bear with me for a little diversion here). These are big platforms, serving billions of people. They’ve got a vested interest in making their platforms as usable and attractive to as many people as possible. Nudging the world toward a particular political orthodoxy? Not so much.

But that doesn’t stop Act II of the bad faith play. Let’s look at how unmoored from reality it is.

Anecdotes Aren’t Data

Anecdotes -- even if they involve multiple examples -- are meaningless when talking about content moderation at scale. Google processes 3.5 billion searches per day. Facebook has over 1.5 billion people looking at its newsfeed daily. Twitter suspends as many as a million accounts a day.

In the face of those numbers, the fact that one user or piece of content was banned tells us absolutely nothing about content moderation practices. Every example offered up -- from Diamond & Silk to PragerU -- is but one little greasy, meaningless mote in the vastness of the content moderation universe.

“‘Neutrality?’ You keep using that word . . .”

One obvious reason that any individual content moderation decision is irrelevant is simple numbers: a decision representing 0.00000001 of all decisions made is of absolutely no statistical significance. Random mutations -- content moderation mistakes -- are going to cause exponentially more postings or deletions than even a compilation of hundreds of anecdotes can provide. And mistakes and edge cases are inevitable when dealing with decision-making at scale.

But there’s more. Cases of so-called “political bias” are, if it is even possible, even less determinative, given the amount of subjectivity involved. If you look at the right-wing whining and whinging about their “voices being censored” by the socialist techlords, don’t expect to see any numerosity or application of basic logic.

Is there any examination of whether those on “the other side” of the political divide are being treated similarly? That perhaps some sites know their audiences don’t want a bunch of over-the-top political content, and thus take it down with abandon, regardless of which political perspective it’s coming from?

Or how about acknowledging the possibility that sites might actually be applying their content moderation rules neutrally -- but that nutbaggery and offensive content isn’t evenly distributed across the political spectrum? And that there just might be, on balance, more of it coming from “the right?”

But of course there’s not going to be any such acknowledgement. It’s just one-way bitching and moaning all the way down, accompanied with mewling about “other side” content that remains posted.

Which is, of course, also merely anecdotal.

Reposted from the Socially Awkward blog.

Filed Under: content moderation, content moderation at scale, errors in moderation, neutrality
Companies: facebook, google, twitter


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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 3:42pm

    Those complaining about the lack of neutrality, do not want neutrality, but rather protected status for their speech.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    icon
    tz1 (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 4:01pm

    There is evidence...

    When AI denies bail disproportionately to blacks v.s. whites, it is called racism even if those denied have more convictions. Can anyone list even 5 people on the political left that have been banned by Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook? If the algorithms were neutral but errant, they would identify "I wish all [white/black/yellow] people" as something to be banned. Yet when the term used is "white", no matter how hateful, it is banned. See Candace Owens (who is black and called out an Asian hired by the NYT by doing a search and replace on the tweets). That is why it is provably NOT neutral. To return to my original example, are police neutral? There are lots of reports of brutality. Maybe it is just that some groups commit more crimes and people are "bitching and moaning ... and mewling" about injuries and deaths that are "just Anecdotal".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 4:08pm

      Re: There is evidence...

      Maybe you missed the 50% of the post that talked about how a few examples are so meaningless at scale that they're not even noise?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 4:45pm

      Commenting 101

      Just a tip, but next time maybe read the gorram article before posting a comment, it might help you avoid posting something that is addressed and refuted in the very article you are being critical of.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PaulT (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 11:32pm

      Re: There is evidence...

      Impressive. You ranted so hard you ended up agreeing with the article you're attacking. You should probably finish reading it before commenting next time. All you ended up doing here is exposing your race obsession in an article that had nothing to do with it.

      "Can anyone list even 5 people on the political left that have been banned by Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook?"

      Can anyone list even 5 "conservatives" who were not banned for open racism, misogyny, homophobia and other outright forms of hatred? There's a reason why the services set up for those kicked off those sites are cesspools of seething impotent hatred.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 1:25am

      Re: There is evidence...

      Can anyone list even 5 people on the political left that have been banned by Twitter, YouTube, or Facebook?

      Yes -- and we've posted some examples in the past. But doing so won't change anything and completely misses the point of this article.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 1:42am

        Re: Re: There is evidence...

        Even if we couldn't, it would then be on tz1 to list those on the "left" who had broken those sites rules in the same way as the ones on the "right" did to get banned. If he can't name such people, all he's implying is that "conservatives" are more likely to be hateful enough to get banned.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 3:32am

      Way to pull out a dogwhistle and blow the “Black criminality” note, Teez.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2020 @ 6:56am

      Re: There is evidence...

      It is amazing.

      Truth is branded as hate speech and hidden all the while the banner of free thought and expression is waved.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Stephen T. Stone (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 7:29am

        If what you call "truth" involves a racist dogwhistle that says Black people are inherently criminal, reconsider where the problem lies.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        PaulT (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 11:53pm

        Re: Re: There is evidence...

        "Truth is branded as hate speech"

        Can you link to some of that? All I've seen so far are bigoted assholes getting barred for being bigoted assholes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Scary Devil Monastery (profile), 25 May 2020 @ 6:43am

        Re: Re: There is evidence...

        "Truth is branded as hate speech and hidden..."

        You mean the "truth" that black people need to go back to work the plantation fields, women need to get back into the kitchen, and homosexuals need to get deported or burned at the stake?

        Because that's the kind of "truth" which usually gets hidden on rational forums.

        Let me make a guess that you are one of those people who feel that since you aren't able to go on facebook and tell other people same-sex marriage is an abomination it must mean that heterosexuals are being oppressed?

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      nasch (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 1:16pm

      Re: There is evidence...

      That is why it is provably NOT neutral.

      You are exhibiting a misunderstanding of at least one word. Probably "provable", but maybe "neutral". Hopefully not "not" or "is" or "it".

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 4:33pm

    Hold on .. the politicians that revoked net neutrality now are demanding that the Internet be neutral wrt political opinions?

    We have the best neutrality per capita than anyone, no one has better neutrality than our capita. You see, there are many capitas and ours is simply the best. No doubt about it.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Eldakka (profile), 21 May 2020 @ 5:18pm

    Anecdotes Aren’t Data

    You are using some weird definition of data if you think anecdotes aren't data.

    Anecdotes aren't statistically significant data. Anecdotes often aren't reliable information.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Thad (profile), 22 May 2020 @ 9:21am

      Re:

      You know, I used to post a lot of pedantic corrections of people's word choice.

      A friend of mine told me something once -- "I oppose bad grammar because it inhibits effective communication. I oppose constantly correcting people's grammar because it's like a fucking bullet to the brain of effective communication."

      That kinda changed my outlook. Now, before I correct someone's grammar or word choice, I try to ask myself "Is this helping? Am I contributing to the conversation? Am I clarifying a detail that was unclear? Or is the meaning already clear, and my correction just serving as an irrelevant distraction?"

      I don't always do as good a job of asking myself those questions as I should. But I think they're good questions to ask.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 21 May 2020 @ 11:33pm

    math and neutrality don't have a lot to do with each other

    efficiency and math have a lot to do with each other

    cheap, efficient speech, can in fact win in a contest with expensive, highly regulated speech "free speech"

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 22 May 2020 @ 6:27am

      Re:

      "math and neutrality don't have a lot to do with each other"

      I thought the math reference was for statistics, the numbers being tossed about can be misunderstood both intentionally and not.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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