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Facebook’s Flood of Languages Leave It Struggling to Monitor Content

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Facebook’s struggles with hate speech and other types of problematic content are being hampered by the company’s inability to keep up with a flood of new languages as mobile phones bring social media to every corner of the globe.

The company offers its 2.3 billion users features such as menus and prompts in 111 different languages, deemed to be officially supported. Reuters has found another 31 widely spoken languages on Facebook that do not have official support.

Detailed rules known as “community standards,” which bar users from posting offensive material including hate speech and celebrations of violence, were translated in only 41 languages out of the 111 supported as of early March, Reuters found.

Facebook’s 15,000-strong content moderation workforce speaks about 50 tongues, though the company said it hires professional translators when needed. Automated tools for identifying hate speech work in about 30.

The language deficit complicates Facebook’s battle to rein in harmful content and the damage it can cause, including to the company itself. Countries including Australia, Singapore and the UK are now threatening harsh new regulations, punishable by steep fines or jail time for executives, if it fails to promptly remove objectionable posts.

The community standards are updated monthly and run to about 9,400 words in English.

Monika Bickert, the Facebook vice president in charge of the standards, has previously told Reuters that they were “a heavy lift to translate into all those different languages.”

A Facebook spokeswoman said this week the rules are translated case by case depending on whether a language has a critical mass of usage and whether Facebook is a primary information source for speakers. The spokeswoman said there was no specific number for critical mass.

She said among priorities for translations are Khmer, the official language in Cambodia, and Sinhala, the dominant language in Sri Lanka, where the government blocked Facebook this week to stem rumors about devastating Easter Sunday bombings.

A Reuters report found last year that hate speech on Facebook that helped foster ethnic cleansing in Myanmar went unchecked in part because the company was slow to add moderation tools and staff for the local language.

Facebook says it now offers the rules in Burmese and has more than 100 speakers of the language among its workforce.

The spokeswoman said Facebook’s efforts to protect people from harmful content had “a level of language investment that surpasses most any technology company.”

But human rights officials say Facebook is in jeopardy of a repeat of the Myanmar problems in other strife-torn nations where its language capabilities have not kept up with the impact of social media.

“These are supposed to be the rules of the road and both customers and regulators should insist social media platforms make the rules known and effectively police them,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia Division. “Failure to do so opens the door to serious abuses.”

Abuse in Fijian
Mohammed Saneem, the supervisor of elections in Fiji, said he felt the impact of the language gap during elections in the South Pacific nation in November last year. Racist comments proliferated on Facebook in Fijian, which the social network does not support. Saneem said he dedicated a staffer to emailing posts and translations to a Facebook employee in Singapore to seek removals.

Facebook said it did not request translations, and it gave Reuters a post-election letter from Saneem praising its “timely and effective assistance.”

Saneem told Reuters that he valued the help but had expected pro-active measures from Facebook.

“If they are allowing users to post in their language, there should be guidelines available in the same language,” he said.

Similar issues abound in African nations such as Ethiopia, where deadly ethnic clashes among a population of 107 million have been accompanied by ugly Facebook content. Much of it is in Amharic, a language supported by Facebook. But Amharic users looking up rules get them in English.

At least 652 million people worldwide speak languages supported by Facebook but where rules are not translated, according to data from language encyclopedia Ethnologue. Another 230 million or more speak one of the 31 languages that do not have official support.

Facebook uses automated software as a key defense against prohibited content. Developed using a type of artificial intelligence known as machine learning, these tools identify hate speech in about 30 languages and “terrorist propaganda” in 19, the company said.

Machine learning requires massive volumes of data to train computers, and a scarcity of text in other languages presents a challenge in rapidly growing the tools, Guy Rosen, the Facebook vice president who oversees automated policy enforcement, has told Reuters.

facebook reuters graphics 2 Facebook

Growth regions
Beyond the automation and a few official fact-checkers, Facebook relies on users to report problematic content. That creates a major issue where community standards are not understood or even known to exist.

Ebele Okobi, Facebook’s director of public policy for Africa, told Reuters in March that the continent had the world’s lowest rates of user reporting.

“A lot of people don’t even know that there are community standards,” Okobi said.

Facebook has bought radio advertisements in Nigeria and worked with local organisations to change that, she said. It also has held talks with African education officials to introduce social media etiquette into the curriculum, she said.

Simultaneously, Facebook is partnering with wireless carriers and other groups to expand Internet access in countries including Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo where it has yet to officially support widely-used languages such as Luganda and Kituba. Asked this week about the expansions without language support, Facebook declined to comment.

The company announced in February it would soon have its first 100 sub-Saharan Africa-based content moderators at an outsourcing facility in Nairobi. They will join existing teams in reviewing content in Somali, Oromo and other languages.

But the community standards are not translated into Somali or Oromo. Posts in Somali from last year celebrating the al-Shabaab militant group remained on Facebook for months despite a ban on glorifying organisations or acts that Facebook designates as terrorist.

“Disbelievers and apostates, die with your anger,” read one post seen by Reuters this month that praised the killing of a Sufi cleric.

After Reuters inquired about the post, Facebook said it took down the author’s account because it violated policies.

Ability to derail
Posts in Amharic reviewed by Reuters this month attacked the Oromo and Tigray ethnic populations in vicious terms that clearly violated Facebook’s ban on discussing ethnic groups using “violent or dehumanising speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion.”

Facebook removed the two posts Reuters inquired about. The company added that it had erred in allowing one of them, from December 2017, to remain online following an earlier user report.

For officials such as Saneem in Fiji, Facebook’s efforts to improve content moderation and language support are painfully slow. Saneem said he warned Facebook months in advance of the election in the archipelago of 900,000 people. Most of them use Facebook, with half writing in English and half in Fijian, he estimated.

“Social media has the ability to completely derail an election,” Saneem said.

Other social media companies face the same problem to varying degrees.

Facebook-owned Instagram said its 1,179-word community guidelines are in 30 out of 51 languages offered to users. WhatsApp, owned by Facebook as well, has terms in nine of 58 supported languages, Reuters found.

Alphabet’s YouTube presents community guidelines in 40 of 80 available languages, Reuters found. Twitter’s rules are in 37 of 47 supported languages, and Snap Inc’s in 13 out of 21.

“A lot of misinformation gets spread around and the problem with the content publishers is the reluctance to deal with it,” Saneem said. “They do owe a duty of care.”

© Thomson Reuters 2019

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Facebook is expanding Spotify partnership with new ‘Boombox’ project – TechCrunch

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Facebook is deepening its relationship with music company Spotify and will allow users to listen to music hosted on Spotify while browsing through its apps as part of a new initiative called “Project Boombox,” Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Monday.

Facebook is building an in-line audio player that will allow users to listen to songs or playlists being shared on the platforms without being externally linked to Spotify’s app or website. Zuckerberg highlighted the feature as another product designed to improve the experience of creators on its platforms, specifically the ability of musicians to share their work, “basically making audio a first-class type of media,” he said.

We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand, and it’s expected to arrive in about a week.

The news was revealed in a wide-ranging interview with reporter Casey Newton on the company’s future pursuits in the audio world as Facebook aims to keep pace with upstart efforts like Clubhouse and increased activity in the podcasting world. 

“We think that audio is going to be a first-class medium and that there are all these different products to be built across this whole spectrum,” said Zuckerberg. “Of course, it includes some areas that, that have been, you know, popular recently like podcasting and kind of live audio rooms like this, but I also think that there’s some interesting things that are under-explored in the area overall.”

Spotify has already supported a fairly productive relationship with the Facebook and Instagram platforms. In recent years the music and podcasts platform has been integrated more deeply into Instagram Stories where users can share content from the service, a feature that’s also been available in Facebook Stories.

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Clubhouse closes an undisclosed $4B valuation Series C round, as tech giants’ clones circle – TechCrunch

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Buzzy “social audio” app Clubhouse has raised a Series C funding round, reportedly valuing the company at $4 billion. Clubhouse said the new round of financing was led by Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz, with participation from DST Global, Tiger Global and Elad Gil. This round means Clubhouse has tripled the valuation it attained in January when Andreessen Horowitz led its Series B funding round.

The funding comes as Twitter, Spotify, Facebook, Telegram, Discord and LinkedIn are all prepping similar features to Clubhouse’s live audio streaming rooms, which has attracted attention for hosting live chats with the likes of Elon Musk and Mark Zuckerberg. Indeed, Vox reported that Facebook will announce a series of “social audio” products only today.

But, unusually for such a late stage of funding, the company has not revealed the amount raised. Industry sources say that this is probably because the Series C funding round is “multi-stage” and therefore not officially closed. Alternatively, the company is “hyping” itself ahead of a sale, as is often the case with “hot” startups. Twitter reportedly broke off talks to acquire the startup at a $4 billion valuation, according to Bloomberg.

And despite appearances that this funding round has been timed to coincide with the launch this week of Facebook’s Clubhouse clone, one well-placed source told me “this funding round has been in the works for the last 1.5 months” and that some offers have been “above 2x” the $4 billion valuation. In other words, there are some investors out there who think Clubhouse is worth more than $8 billion.

So far Clubhouse is demurring on all this, and declining to comment more directly to the media. The company disclosed the news about the funding during its weekly “town hall” chat last Sunday night and in a blog post, the company said the fundraising will support a fresh burst of growth for the app.

“While we’ve quadrupled the size of our team this year, stabilized our infrastructure, launched Payments in beta to help creators monetize, and readied Android for launch, there is so much more to do as we work to bring Clubhouse to more people around the world. It’s no secret that our servers have struggled a bit these past few months, and that our growth has outpaced the early discovery algorithms our small team originally built,” said the post.

Noting that “it’s important to us to be building all of this with people who are invested in the community and who represent a diverse set of backgrounds and voices,” Clubhouse has, however, been struck by a wave of problems in the last few days, when anti-Semitic audio rooms seemed to proliferate on the platform. Clubhouse has previously been criticized for its seeming inability to moderate extremism on the app.

The year-old platform, which has reported 10 million weekly active users, has thrived during the pandemic while people were locked down and therefore unable to chat easily in person.

Tech news site The Information first reported details on the Clubhouse funding on Friday.

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Facebook invests in audio with short-form Soundbites feature, podcast support, and a Clubhouse clone – TechCrunch

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Facebook today officially announced a suite of new audio products — an indication that it’s taking the threat from Clubhouse and other audio platforms more seriously. The company is doing more than just building its own take on Clubhouse, however, it’s also announcing tools that allow podcast creators to share long-form audio, a new Spotify integration for music, and a brand-new short-form experience called Sound Bites.

The Clubhouse clone was probably the most-discussed of the new products ahead of today’s announcement, given the increased interest in the audio networking market.

Like Clubhouse, the Facebook experience will also involve live audio rooms, where users can engage in topical discussions.

“I think the areas where is where I’m most excited about it on Facebook are basically in the large number of communities and groups that exist. I think that you already have these communities that are organized around interests, and allowing people to come together and have rooms where they can talk is — I think it’d be a very useful thing,” said Zuckerberg, in a friendly interview with Platformer, timed alongside the official announcement. “When we launched video rooms earlier last year, groups and communities were one of the bigger areas where that took off. So, I think around audio, just given how much more accessible it is, that’ll be a pretty exciting area as well.”

Image Credits: Facebook

The Live Audio Rooms will be available across both Facebook and Messenger, Facebook says in an official blog post.

The company will first test Live Audio Rooms in Groups, reaching Groups’ 1.8 billion monthly users. They’ll also be made available to public figures and experts. Early adopters of the feature will include American football quarterback Russell Wilson, Grammy-nominated electronic music artist TOKiMONSTA, artist and director Elle Moxley, and five-time Olympic medalist and entrepreneur Nastia Liukin, Facebook says.

Live Audio Rooms will be available to everyone on Facebook this summer. Also this summer, Live Audio Rooms will be made available on Messenger, for an experience that allows friends to hang out, too.

In addition to products that rehash audio functionality available in tech products from other companies, Zuckerberg also revealed that the company was working on an audio-only version of its TikTok competitor Instagram Reels that allows users to quickly move through algorithmically-sorted short audio clips, a project being called Soundbites. In its blog post, Facebook detailed that they will be testing Soundbites over the next few months with a small group of creators before making it widely available.

Image Credits: Facebook

“The idea here is it’s short form audio clips, whether it’s people sharing things that they find funny… or kind of pithy things that people want to share that cover a bunch of different genres and topics,” Zuckerberg said.

For podcast creators, Zuckerberg said the company will build out tools for those who follow podcasts and creators through Facebook Pages, but don’t currently have a way to access podcast content via the social network. He noted that there are now 170 million Facebook users who are connected to a Page for a podcast, which it why it wants to ensure they have a way to access this audio content more easily.

Image Credits: Facebook

For these users, they’ll be able to discover the audio and start playing it, even in the background. Or they could choose to launch a second app to continue play it, Zuckerberg said. We understand that the experience will actually allow users to directly open Spotify, if they would prefer to listen to the music or audio there, instead.

The feature will also help users with new podcast discovery based on your interests, and users will be able to comment on podcasts and recommend them to friends.

Related to these audio efforts, Zuckerberg referenced Facebook’s partnership with Spotify, which is now being expanded with something it has internally referred to as “Project Boombox” — is an integration that would allow people to share content from their favorite artists, playlists and other types of audio in their feed. That content would then appear in a little, in-line player for others to click and play.

We understand from sources familiar with the Spotify integration that this player will support both music and podcasts. It has already been tested in non-U.S. markets, including Mexico and Thailand. It’s expected to arrive in about a week.

“Facebook’s interest in audio is further validation of the category and reinforces what we’ve known all along — the power and potential for audio is limitless,” a spokesperson for Spotify told TechCrunch. “Our ambition has always been to make Spotify ubiquitous across platforms and devices — bringing music and podcasts to more people — and our new integration with Facebook is another step in these efforts. We look forward to a continued partnership with Facebook, fueling audio discovery around the world,” they added.

Zuckerberg also referenced the need to serve the growing creator economy with its new products.

With Live Audio Rooms, fans will be able to support creators through Stars, Facebook’s existing in-app tipping feature, or donate to causes. Facebook says it will later offer other monetization tools like access to Live Audio Rooms on subscriptions. There’s also an Audio Creator Fund being made available to kick off the launch of Soundbites.

The exec also spoke about Facebook’s plans for a newsletters product, all under the umbrella of serving the creator community with a suite of tools — something Twitter is now doing, too, with its plans for Super Follow.

“I think a product where a journalist or a creator can basically create a subscription for people who want to follow them, that spans both a newsletter and a podcast, is going to be a really powerful thing,” said Zuckerberg. “So that’s a big part of what we’re going to enable with some of the monetization tools around podcasts. That dovetails with the work that we’re that we’re planning to do…our work on on our newsletters and giving tools for for independent journalists. I think enabling both of those things to come together on extremely favorable terms to journalists and creators, will be a pretty powerful thing,” he noted.

The product launches, which Vox scooped on Sunday, indicate how seriously Facebook considers the disruption to its dominance that could be attributed to the growing number of places where fans connect with creators. The threat for Facebook today is not just a new app like Clubhouse or Substack’s newsletters or even Patreon, but the fact that the creator economy, in general, isn’t being centralized and owned by Facebook itself.

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