Facebook apologises over harmful content failings

Facebook uncovers "sophisticated" campaign to influence upcoming US elections

Facebook apologises over harmful content failings

Picture by: Dominic Lipinski/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 13:30

Facebook has apologised for its failings in the moderation of offensive and disturbing material on the site.

Company executives are appearing before the Oireachtas Communications Committee today on revelations included in the Channel 4 documentary 'Inside Facebook.’

The programme used hidden camera footage to show how content moderation practices are taught and applied within the company's operations in Dublin.

It found staff were instructed not to remove content, even when it violated the company's guidelines.

In the programme, a Dublin based trainer told his team that if content is censored too much, people will lose interest and that "it's all about making money at the end of the day."

This afternoon European and Irish Facebook bosses again apologised to the committee.

The company has undertaken a number of key actions in response to the revelations – including restricting access for under 13's who are not permitted to own an account.

Facebook Ireland Head of Public Policy Niamh Sweeney (L) and Facebook EMEA Head of Public Policy Siobhan Cummiskey arriving at Leinster House, 01-08-2018. Image: Leah Farrell/RollingNews

Siobhán Cummiskey, head of content policy, said user safety is Facebook’s top priority:

She said decisions on what videos are allowed stay on the site are never driven by financial interests.

“One of the claims made in the programme was that it is in our interest to turn a blind eye to controversial or disturbing content on our platform,” she said.

“This is categorically untrue.

“Creating a safe environment where people all over the world can share and connect is core to our business model.

“If our services are not safe, people won’t share with each other and over time would stop using them.”

US elections 

Meanwhile, Facebook says it has uncovered a new “sophisticated” campaign to influence the upcoming US mid-term elections.

The company closed dozens of fake accounts it said were involved in “coordinated, inauthentic behaviour” ahead of the November mid-term elections.

The social media giant says it’s still at the early stages of its investigation – and said it could not say for certain who was behind the campaign.

It said it was publishing what it knows so far “given the connection between these bad actors and protests that are planned in Washington next week.”

Russia

Facebook said whoever set up the accounts “went to much greater lengths” to hide their identity than the Russian-based Internet Research Agency (IRA) has in the past. 

“This kind of behaviour is not allowed on Facebook because we don’t want people or organizations creating networks of accounts to mislead others about who they are, or what they’re doing,” Facebook said in a statement.

Virginia senator Mark Warner – the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee – said the discovery represented “an absolute attack on our democracy.”

He expressed "pretty high confidence" that Russia was behind the campaign.

The identified accounts sought to "promote divisions and set Americans against one another," wrote Ben Nimmo and Graham Brookie of the Atlantic Council's Digital Forensic Research Lab in a blog post Tuesday.

The non-profit is working with Facebook to find and analyse abuse on its service.

Security

The company said it has made changes over the past year “to make this kind of abuse much harder.”

“But security is not something that’s ever done,” it said.

“We face determined, well-funded adversaries who will never give up and are constantly changing tactics.

“It’s an arms race and we need to constantly improve too. It’s why we’re investing heavily in more people and better technology to prevent bad actors misusing Facebook — as well as working much more closely with law enforcement and other tech companies to better understand the threats we face.”

The company said nearly 300,000 people were following at least one of the newly banned accounts – and thousands expressed interest in events they promoted.

2016 election

US President Donald Trump has previously claimed that reports of Russian involvement in his 2016 election victory were a “hoax.”

After originally appearing to question whether Russian actors would attempt to interfere in the November elections, he admitted last week that they were a likely target.

He claimed however, that Democrats, not his fellow Republicans, would be the ones supported by Russia.