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Zuckerberg: Facebook’s failure to remove militia page sooner was an ‘operational mistake’



The “Kenosha Guard” page was taken down by Facebook after a deadly shooting at a racial justice protest.

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg told employees that the social network failed to remove a page created by a militia group called the Kenosha Guard before a deadly shooting at a protest in Wisconsin because of an “operational mistake.”

Facebook users notified the company of an event organized by the Kenosha Guard that issued a “call to arms” before racial justice protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, The Verge reported this week. Users reported the event for inciting violence, but received messages stating the content didn’t run afoul of the social network’s rules. BuzzFeed, which viewed an internal report, said the Kenosha Guard event was reported to Facebook at least 455 times.

Protests erupted after Jacob Blake, a 29-year-old Black man, was shot seven times in the back by Kenosha police during an arrest on Sunday and became paralyzed. On Tuesday, two protesters were shot to death and another person was wounded during a protest in that city. Kyle Rittenhouse, a 17-year-old resident of Antioch, Illinois, was accused of killing the two protesters. He was arrested and charged with first-degree intentional homicide and other criminal counts.

Zuckerberg admitted Facebook made the wrong call by not pulling down the Kenosha Guard and event sooner. The page and event did violate new rules the company rolled out last week about “Dangerous Organizations and Individuals,” Zuckerberg told employees in a video posted on his Facebook page on Friday. Under those rules, Facebook would remove accounts, pages and groups formed by organizations and movements that pose a threat to public safety if they discussed potential violence.

Zuckerberg told employees that the team that reviews dangerous organizations and individuals has to understand the “nuances” of how militia groups and conspiracy theory movements work.

“The contractors and the reviewers who the initial complaints … were funneled to … basically didn’t pick this up,” he said. 

After reviewing the content again, the company pulled down the Kenosha Guard page on Wednesday after the deadly shooting. Facebook hasn’t found any evidence that Rittenhouse followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited to the group’s event. But Facebook’s failure to remove the page more quickly sparked scrutiny from civil rights groups and the company’s employees. Facebook’s employees criticized Zuckerberg’s leadership and questioned whether the company was doing enough to combat hate speech during an internal virtual meeting on Thursday, BuzzFeed reported. 

“At what point do we take responsibility for enabling hate filled bile to spread across our services?” one employee reportedly said during the meeting. “[A]nti semitism, conspiracy, and white supremacy reeks across our services.”

The backlash from employees shows that discontent over the company’s content moderation decisions continues to grow. In June, Facebook employees staged a rare virtual walkout and publicly criticized Zuckerberg after the social network left up a post from President Donald Trump they said could incite violence. In the post, Trump wrote “when the looting starts, the shooting starts” but Facebook determined those remarks didn’t violate its rules against inciting violence. Trump also made the same comments on Twitter but his tweet was labeled for violating the site’s rules against glorifying violence.

Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment, but spokeswoman Liz Bourgeois told BuzzFeed that the Kenosha shooting was “painful for everyone, especially our Black community.”

“The Kenosha Guard Event and Page violated our new policy on militia organizations and have been removed on that basis. We launched this policy last week and we’re still scaling up our enforcement of it by a team of specialists on our Dangerous Organizations team,” she said.

Earlier this month, Facebook said it took down 790 groups, 100 pages and 1,500 ads tied to the right-wing conspiracy theory known as QAnon that falsely claims there’s a “deep state” plot against Trump and his supporters. Civil rights groups organized a campaign this year calling on businesses to stop buying ads on Facebook in July, until the social network does more to combat hate speech. 

Apple’s 30% fee on revenue made through its App Store has rubbed another tech giant the wrong way: Facebook. Earlier this month, Facebook announced a new feature that let influencers and businesses host virtual events that people must pay to access. Apple charges a fee, typically 30%, on all purchases made through an iOS app, but Facebook hoped the iPhone maker would make an exception for this ostensibly community-focused tool. Apple declined. 

Facebook tried to inform iOS users about Apple’s fee, explaining why event organizers would receive only 70% of their earnings. But Facebook said Apple blocked this information on the basis of it being “irrelevant,” according to Reuters, which first reported the issue. Facebook previously said it wouldn’t take a cut of money made by organizers with the tool for the next year.

“Now more than ever, we should have the option to help people understand where money they intend for small businesses actually goes,” a Facebook spokesperson told CNET on Thursday. “Unfortunately Apple rejected our transparency notice around their 30% tax but we are still working to make that information available inside the app experience.”

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg reportedly said Apple has a “stranglehold as a gatekeeper on what gets on phones.” Zuckerberg told his employees during a meeting that the iPhone maker “blocks innovation, blocks competition” and “allows Apple to charge monopoly rents,” BuzzFeed News reported Thursday.

Apple and Facebook didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment on Zuckerberg’s reported remarks.

Facebook’s complaint is timely, as Apple is embroiled in a lawsuit with Epic Games over the same issue. Epic’s smash hit Fortnite was kicked off the App Store earlier this month after Epic created a direct payment plan that would allow Fortnite players to buy in-game currency directly from Epic, rather than through Apple, circumventing Apple’s 30% fee. Epic responded by suing Apple and Google, which booted Fornite off its Play Store for the same reason

A demo of Facebook’s upcoming paid event feature. Facebook

Facebook is pitching the new feature as a much-needed tool for struggling small businesses, creatives and influencers amid the COVID-19 pandemic, where in-person gatherings are restricted. In the mid-August blog announcing the paid events feature, Facebook pledged to not charge any fees through the feature for “at least the next year.” 

“For transactions on the web, and on Android in countries where we have rolled out Facebook Pay, small businesses will keep 100% of the revenue they generate from paid online events,” the blog said. “We asked Apple to reduce its 30% App Store tax or allow us to offer Facebook Pay so we could absorb all costs for businesses struggling during COVID-19. Unfortunately, they dismissed both our requests and SMBs will only be paid 70% of their hard-earned revenue.”

First published on Aug. 27, 2020 at 11:16 p.m. PT.


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