Facebook talks about how hard it is to deal with hate speech

It’s the second in the tech giant’s transparency series, 'Hard Questions.'

Earlier this month, Facebook announced a "Hard Questions" series that would enable the company to talk more openly about difficult issues of personal privacy in the online sphere. The end goal was to be more transparent about the difficult questions it faces because, often, there are no right or easy answers. Today, Facebook debuted its second installment in the series, tackling the issue of hate speech.

Facebook, through Richard Allan, their VP of Public Policy for Europe, the Middle East and Asia, makes very clear that "We are opposed to hate speech in all its forms, and don't allow it on our platform." But part of the problem of dealing with the issue of hate speech is defining what it is -- something that's easier said than done. "People who live in the same country -- or next door -- often have different levels of tolerance for speech about protected characteristics."

Figuring out what constitutes hate speech and should be removed is the largest challenge Facebook faces with this issue. Sometimes it's appallingly obvious when hate speech is just that. "But sometimes, there isn't a clear consensus -- because the words themselves are ambiguous, the intent behind them is unknown or the context around them is unclear," Allan continues. So, in order to figure out what actually is hate speech, the company looks at context and intent before taking action.

However, they also acknowledge that they've made mistakes. Last year, Shaun King posted to Facebook hate mail (including racial slurs) that he'd received. The company flagged the post as hate speech and subsequently removed it, sparking outrage.

Allan's post concludes with the measures they're using to continue to fight hate speech, from AI and machine learning to building up moderation teams. At the end of the day, though, Facebook relies on its community and users to report hate speech.

While there's nothing particularly revolutionary about this post from Allan, the fact that Facebook is interested in being more transparent and acknowledges that serious mistakes have been made handling hate speech in the past are noteworthy. The choice of hate speech as a topic, and the selection of the author of the post -- a Europe-based official -- is telling, considering that Germany is currently debating legislation that would severely fine social media platforms for not adequately dealing with hate speech. What's clear is that Facebook (along with every other online community) has a serious problem with this type of content; let's hope that this hard question means that Facebook is getting more serious about confronting it.