Wednesday, February 17, 2021

When Facebook flags your post

A handful of guys in the hobby have recently expressed their frustration with Facebook flagging their posts, indicating that they violate their standards. 

In one case a photographer friend who shares images of aircraft was warned about his content (I don’t have any other details), and he’s decided to leave Facebook.

In another case, a Dragon 1/35 Sherman was flagged because it goes against the company’s Commerce Policy on weapons.

A deep dive into those standards that I think are at play in the latter case finds an explanation of Regulated Goods, which includes a prohibition on firearms, content that, "Attempts to buy, sell, trade, donate, gift or solicit firearms, firearm parts, ammunition, explosives, or lethal enhancements between private individuals, unless posted by a real brick-and-mortar store, legitimate website, brand or government agency." If you’re reading this, I think we all agree that identifying a scale model as a firearm is a huge and unreasonable leap.

Here’s the thing. Facebook’s policies and standards are written by a committee of highly paid executives, consultants, and lawyers...but, if this article from 2019 is still accurate, they’re enforced by 15,000 off-shore contractors in eight countries, and each flagged item is studied for roughly 15 seconds. The employees' performance is evaluated based on average review or handling time, so it’s easy to see how someone can nonchalantly flag something incorrectly to keep their time low.

Facebook generally allows users to request a review of the flag and removal, but if you’re denied again, a few minutes searching Google confirms that many removals don’t permit additional appeals. 

So what do you do if your post gets flagged and an appeal is not offered? I suggest writing a physical letter to Facebook’s Vice President of Content Policy, Monika Bickert. Here’s the address:

Facebook, Inc.
Attn: Monika Bikert
1 Hacker Way
Menlo Park, CA 94205

I suggest this route because I’ve had great success in the past with contacting senior management directly. Senior-level executives typically have a dedicated team of employees who are responsible for responding to direct inquiries. For example, ten years ago a letter to Delta's CEO allowed me to rebook an airline ticket that otherwise would've been nonrefundable.

Your letter should politely but clearly make your case, for example:

I’m writing to ask your assistance with an item that was incorrectly flagged as violating Facebook’s standards or policies.

I recently posted this item, which was flagged.

<Insert screenshot here>

I believe this was flagged in error. 

Example reasons:

This is simply a scale model, a miniature version of an airplane or tank. It measures less than 12 inches and is not capable of flying nor firing any form of live ammunition. You'll find scale models like this in museums around the world.

Or

This is a photograph of an airplane or tank. It’s intended to capture a moment in time for historical purposes, just like thousands of other images currently available on Facebook. It does not promote violence or war in any form. You'll find photographs like this in museums, libraries, and historical archives around the world.

One of the Oversight Board’s principles is Accessibility. The Board’s charter states:

"Individuals will be able to appeal Facebook and Instagram content decisions to the board. Anyone whose content is selected for review by the board will have the opportunity to share a statement explaining their position."

Unfortunately, my content was not formally selected for review by the board, so I’m taking the opportunity to proactively appeal myself. I ask you to take a moment to review this item and make it available again to my Facebook friends and followers.

Thank you for your time and for your efforts to keep Facebook a safe and fair medium for sharing content.

Why go through all this effort? Because we need to recognize that human error plays an enormous role in erroneously flagging content, and more importantly, that we hold Facebook accountable for the policies and standards they’ve published.

I know a lot of you are fed up with Facebook and many have chosen to leave. I understand the frustration. For those of you who choose to stay, I hope you’ll take this extra step to ensure our model-related content remains accessible.

No matter how you feel about Facebook, remember what a friend told me several years ago:

If you’re not paying for it, you’re not the customer.

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