Sat, Apr 27, 2019 - Page 9 News List

Facebook’s world of languages has it fighting to monitor content

By Maggie Fick and Paresh Dave  /  Reuters, NAIROBI and SAN FRANCISCO

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.

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 last month, Reuters found.

Facebook’s 15,000-strong content moderation workforce speaks about 50 tongues, although the company has 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 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 this week said that 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.

There was no specific number for critical mass, the spokeswoman said.

She said that 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 last year found 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 has said it now offers the rules in Burmese and has more than 100 speakers of the language among its workforce.

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

However, human rights officials have said that 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,” Human Rights Watch deputy Asia director Phil Robertson said. “Failure to do so opens the door to serious abuses.”

ABUSE IN FIJIAN

Mohammed Saneem, the supervisor of elections in Fiji, said that 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.

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