Moderating a Facebook gardening group in Western New York isn’t without its challenges. There are complaints of woolly bed bugs, inclement weather, and novice members who insist on using dish soap on their floors.
And then there is the word “whore.”
Facebook algorithms sometimes flag this particular word as “violating community standards”, apparently referring to a different word, one without an “e” at the end that is however often misspelled as a garden tool. .
Typically, Facebook’s automated systems will flag posts with offensive material and remove them. But if members of a group, or worse yet, administrators, violate the rules too many times, the entire group can be shut down.
Elizabeth Licata, one of the group’s moderators, was concerned about this. After all, the group, WNY Gardeners, has over 7,500 members who use it for tips and advice on gardening. It has been especially popular during the pandemic when many homebound people took up gardening for the first time.
A hoe by any other name could be a rake, harrow, or rototill. But Licata was unwilling to ban the group’s word or try to eliminate every instance. When a group member commented “Push, pull, hoe!” In a post requesting “your most beloved and indispensable cleaning tool,” Facebook sent out a notification that read, “We reviewed this comment and found that it goes against our standards of harassment and intimidation.”
Facebook uses both human moderators and artificial intelligence to root out material that goes against its rules. In this case, a human would probably have known that a hoe in a gardening group is probably not a case of harassment or bullying. But AI isn’t always good on context and nuances of language.
He misses a lot too – users often complain that they report violent or abusive language and Facebook’s rules that it doesn’t violate community standards. Vaccine and election misinformation has been a long-standing and well-documented problem for the social media company. On the other hand, there are groups like Licata that get caught up in overzealous algorithms.
“So I contacted Facebook, which was useless. How do you do that?” she said. “You know, I said this is a gardening group, a hoe is a gardening tool.”
Licata said she never heard from a person and Facebook, and found browsing the social network’s survey system and ways of trying to clear things up was useless.
Contacted by The Associated Press, a Facebook representative said in an email this week that the company found the group and corrected the erroneous executions. He also put in additional verification, meaning that someone, a real person, will review the offending posts before removal from the group is considered. The company did not say if other gardening groups had similar problems. (In January, Facebook mistakenly marked the UK’s Plymouth Hoe landmark as offensive and later apologized, according to The Guardian.)
“We have plans to develop better customer service for our products and provide the public with even more information about our policies and how we enforce them,” Facebook said in a statement in response to Licata’s complaints.
Then something else came up. Licata received a notification that Facebook automatically disabled comments on a post due to “possible violence, incitement or hatred in various comments.”
The offensive comments included “Kill them all. Drown them in soapy water ”and“ Japanese beetles are idiots ”.
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