We noticed you're browsing in private or incognito mode.

To continue reading this article, please exit incognito mode or log in.

Not an Insider? Subscribe now for unlimited access to online articles.


Offensive Content Still Plagues Facebook

New reports of failure to remove sexualized images of children raise questions about whether enough is being done to keep troubling content from servers.

Facebook is coming under renewed pressure to redouble its efforts to remove offensive content.

A new investigation by the BBC reveals that the social network failed to take down sexualized content relating to children when its presence was reported. The news organization alerted Facebook to 100 pieces of content, such as sexualized images of children and pages said to be “explicitly for men with a sexual interest in children,” using the report button that sits alongside content. Only 18 were deemed offensive and taken down upon initial reporting.

Facebook says that it has since “removed all items that were illegal or against our standards” and reported some to the police. But the news has raised concerns among politicians about whether or not the social network is doing enough to respond to inappropriate material.

They might have a point. The Wall Street Journal today explains that this time last year Facebook was rushing to prepare its new Live video streaming feature. But, reports the newspaper, the pace left employees with little time to plan how to deal with inappropriate content. In fact, it’s a problem that it still wrestles with today. Both pieces of news suggest that Facebook may not be doing all it can to protect users from offensive material.

It’s not a new problem for Facebook. In the past it’s come under heavy criticism for playing host to the kinds of content that can be used to radicalize young people and influence them to join terrorist organizations. 

Mark Zuckerberg has explained in the past that he hopes AI will help ease the problem in the future. But, as with its fake-news problem, there are plenty of issues standing in the way of implementing such technology, including the challenges of training a machine to accurately spot problematic content, as well as the difficulties surrounding freedom of speech and censorship when content issues become subjective. Instead, humans remain part of the vetting process, but it's unclear how many people deal with what must be a large volume of data.

Zuckerberg has recently envisioned a world where his powerful social network could be used to make the world a better place—to break down barriers, connect communities, and build one big, happy global Facebook family. Part of that vision was a vow to make the social network as safe and welcoming as possible. Those efforts, it seems, can't kick in soon enough.

(Read more: BBC, Guardian, Wall Street Journal, “Mark Zuckerberg Has Laid Out His Vision of a World United by Facebook,” “Facebook Will Try to Outsource a Fix for Its Fake-News Problem,” “Fighting ISIS Online’)

AI is here.
Own what happens next at EmTech Digital 2019.

Register now
More from Connectivity

What it means to be constantly connected with each other and vast sources of information.

Want more award-winning journalism? Subscribe to Insider Plus.
  • Insider Plus {! insider.prices.plus !}*

    {! insider.display.menuOptionsLabel !}

    Everything included in Insider Basic, plus the digital magazine, extensive archive, ad-free web experience, and discounts to partner offerings and MIT Technology Review events.

    See details+

    Print + Digital Magazine (6 bi-monthly issues)

    Unlimited online access including all articles, multimedia, and more

    The Download newsletter with top tech stories delivered daily to your inbox

    Technology Review PDF magazine archive, including articles, images, and covers dating back to 1899

    10% Discount to MIT Technology Review events and MIT Press

    Ad-free website experience

You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for unlimited online access. This is your last free article this month. for unlimited online access. You've read all your free articles this month. for unlimited online access. You've read of three free articles this month. for more, or for unlimited online access. for two more free articles, or for unlimited online access.