Exposed: gaping holes in Facebook’s procedure to report abuse
Facebook claims that it "maintains a robust reporting infrastructure that leverages our hundreds of millions of users to look for offensive or potentially dangerous content."
But I've discovered that this is rubbish. Facebook's methods for reporting inappropriate comments are confusing, flawed or missing. Problems I've uncovered include:
- Content that's impossible to flag.
- There's no way to explain why content is inappropriate, which means Facebook has to work out itself (as you'll see from the examples below, this is highly unlikely).
- Confusing error messages that tell you you can't report content, even though you can.
How Facebook's system works (supposedly)
Facebook's terms of service state:
"You will not post content that is hateful, threatening, pornographic, or that contains nudity or graphic or gratuitous violence."
If you do spot inappropriate content, there are "report" links allowing you to flag the content, like this (I've blacked out people's names):
To test the system out, I found Facebook pages or groups which contained the following:
- Claims that the parents of Baby P were responsible for his murder (they weren't - it was the mother and boyfriend).
- Claims that someone called David Calvery is, in fact, Jon Venables (who murdered Jamie Bulger) - even though he can't possibly be.
- Claims that Madeleine McCann's parents were responsible for their daughter's death (there is no suggestion from the Portuguese police that this is the case).
Why Facebook's reporting process is not fit for purpose
You can't report content that the owner of a page created
You can't report new comments by the person who set up a page. There's a page called "I hope Jon Venables gets his head kicked in now hes in Adult Jail..." If the creator / administrator of that page posts a new comment, there is no "report" link by their comment, as these pictures (one for that page, one for another one called "all pedophiles should hang") show - there's no "Report" link next to the information on the date/time the comment was made.
If anyone replies to this comment (or if the page's administrator replies to another comment), then there IS a "report" button - but it's not there for new comments by the creator of the page.
This makes it impossible to flag this comment incorrectly accusing an innocent man of being a child murderer.
You can't say why you're reporting pages
Let's say you decided to try to work around that by reporting the whole page - in the left hand column of these pages is a "Report page" link. But, crucially, this doesn't ask WHY you're flagging content. Here's what the reporting box looks like:
Yes, they really have spelled categorised wrongly. You can put inappropriate content - but if you're trying to flag up one comment on a page with hundreds on, there's no way to explain this. Because once you've chosen an option and pressed to continue, you get the thank you screen. How do Facebook imagine they are going to work out which bit of content I wanted to flag up?
Once you've reported it, you see this box:
Yes, they're not going to tell you what action they took.
This issue applies on a bigger scale if you actually do disagree with the entire page.
This page is called "Let Baby P's abusive parents get what's coming to them".
I've reported it - but because there's no way to explain why I've reported it, I'm relying on Facebook employees working out that it was Baby B's mother and her boyfriend, and not his mother and father, who were found guilty of murder.
This is, again, not a "robust" system as Facebook claim - it's relying on them working out what the issue is - and what happens if they miss the problem? Well, they don't get in touch, as we've seen. (They may remove the page because of its threats of violence, but this doesn't undermine the point - if these threats were missing, how would they know what I was reporting?)
You can't say why you're reporting comments
This problem applies to the reporting of individual comments, too. Take this one, incorrectly describing an innocent man as actually being a child murderer.
I reported this - again, I'm not asked why. How are Facebook employees going to know why? Will they bother looking into the case - how will they even know that there is an issue with David Calvert being falsely named as Venables? The options don't even make sense: "attacks individual or group" isn't really why I'm complaining.
You can't report discussion topics
If you want to report an entire discussion, you can't. Here's a screenshot from a rugby songs group - apologies for the racist language (believe me, there are worse).
Alternatively, here's one accusing Madeleine McCann's mother of being her killer:
Discussion topics' problem is that you have to report them one comment at time - there is no way to report the entire topic. There could be hundreds of them, and you have to report them one at a time.
And, again, when you do, you're not asked WHY you're reporting them. It might be obvious to you - but what if it was a less obvious topic, or what if the Facebook moderators aren't in the UK and don't know about the McCanns?
You're told you can't report content
You might notice inappropriate content when you're not logged in to Facebook. If you try to flag it, you see this error message:
This doesn't tell you that you have to log in to report it - it just says you "don't have sufficient permissions to do that". This leaves the user none the wiser that they could report the content if they logged in.
How it ought to work
Facebook do have the tools in place to improve these systems. If you try and report a group, the system works slightly better, as you have to answer two questions. The first is a proper list of reasons:
The second is to be more specific about where the inappropriate content is:
It's not clear why this more informative way of reporting content isn't standard.
You may think these examples are obvious. But that's because I've chosen extreme ones. In less obvious cases, Facebook has a system where people can't report content and can't explain why they've reported it.
Its reporting system is a sham. It needs to change.
You might also like
- Facebook’s new comment system doesn’t work when you’re logged in as your page
- Facebook login: the best comments on the readwriteweb fiasco
- Pre Budget Report: Business Link wastes money on Google adverts
- Use Facebook’s activity stream to make friends look like adulterous, job-changing murderers
- Open Graph: let people FaceBook “like” your WordPress (or other) website