How Facebook Can Fix Itself, Sans Sen. Warren's 'Help'
If Facebook’s security mechanism were 99.99% effective that would still allow thousands of abusive interactions on a platform that has billions a day. This quality control problem can readily be addressed. It needs no intervention by Congressional or other government bodies who are manifestly unclear on the concept.
Despite good faith efforts by Facebook there remains a lack of professionalism in its community governance practices. This core problem is being neglected in the public discourse among loud demands for government censorship, proposals like the repeal of platform legal immunity for user-posted content (taken down upon discovery), breaking up Big Tech, and other heavy-handed government “solutions.”
I don’t work for Facebook but I do understand community governance as a professional matter. I ran community governance for what was, during the 2008 election cycle, by far the biggest conservative social network in America, TeamSarah.org, named in honor of then-Vice Presidential candidate Sarah Palin. At peak it had over a million user engagements a month and well over 250,000 monthly unique visitors. That was in the early days of social media. While tiny by current standards it was significant, at scale, and had a profound real-world impact.
From Team Sarah sprang many of the initial Tea Party groups. We trained over 700 people who were among the leaders of over 250 separate Tea Party groups around the US. And it encountered many of the same problems we see today. When Ralph Benko, Team Sarah’s network creator, brought me on the community was under siege.
It was invaded by hundreds of “trolls” – malicious users – busily giving the place a heinous user experience by planting vile content or pretending to be members and planting hate speech, racist, sexist and other abuses. Some would then take screen shots of their phony posts and plant them in the media to smear the site’s reputation.
We discovered that the first aspect of the governance solution is qualitative. We implemented a simple, practical, community governance regime. That regime worked beautifully then. It would work for Facebook and others today.
Facebook’s standards are designed primarily to restrain, and even punish, bad behavior. Punitiveness is not conducive to developing a good social media culture. When I came into Team Sarah we formulated and posted clear, accessible, firm but gentle standards that left little to interpretation. Think of these as the Ten Commandments rather than the Book of Leviticus.
While not chiseled in stone here are some of the simple rules that worked beautifully for our community: Standards must be clear and objective. Provide transparent and even-handed due process for alleged offenders with a clear appeals process. Make proportional to the infraction and redemptive rather than punitive (community service rather than “an eye for an eye”) wherever possible. Keep standards neutral; do not privilege some users and prejudice others.
I trained a small crew of Senior Guides instead of “moderators.” The Guides not only enforced the posted standards but actively helped teach those in the network what the rules were. They mentored more than punished whenever possible when standards were inadvertently breached.
The second aspect is quantitative. Facebook is simply investing too little in its standards team. CNBC says they pay (mostly) contractors $15/hour -- $28,000/year -- to perform that role. That’s too low to attract and keep top quality people. Multiplying this figure by Zuckerberg’s count of 30,000 relevant employees yields a cost of $840 million a year.
With a 2018 net profit of over $22 billion (and its revenue growing robustly) Facebook should invest in its brand integrity by increasing the size and, with higher compensation, quality of its standards team. Doubling both size and compensation would mean quadrupling their investment to something over $3 billion a year.
Facebook can afford it. And with the erosion of its reputation for quality and the heavy hand of government solutions looming, it can’t afford not to.
Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly proven himself to be an astute businessman. It seems likely he will recognize the nature of his problem and take the necessary measures to clean it up.
Meanwhile, a warning to my fellow Conservatives now militating for Elizabeth Warren-type Big Government solutions. There is a wonderful poster at Despair.org showing the Capitol illuminated in golden sunset light and captioned “If you think the problems we create are bad, just wait until you see our solutions.”