One of Facebook’s main content-moderation hubs outside the U.S. is in Dublin, where, every day, moderators review hundreds of thousands of reports of potential rule violations from Europe, Africa, the Middle East, and Latin America. In December, 2015, several moderators in the Dublin office—including some on what was called the MENA team, for Middle East and North Africa—noticed that Trump’s post was not being taken down. “An American politician saying something shitty about Muslims was probably not the most shocking thing I saw that day,” a former Dublin employee who worked on content policy related to the Middle East told me. “Remember, this is a job that involves looking at beheadings and war crimes.” The MENA team, whose members spoke Arabic, Farsi, and several other languages, was not tasked with moderating American content; still, failing to reprimand Trump struck many of them as a mistake, and they expressed their objections to their supervisors. According to Facebook’s guidelines, moderators were to remove any “calls for exclusion or segregation.” An appeal to close the American border to Muslims clearly qualified.
The following day, members of the team and other concerned employees met in a glass-walled conference room. At least one policy executive joined, via video, from the U.S. “I think it was Joel Kaplan,” the former Dublin employee told me. “I can’t be sure. Frankly, I had trouble telling those white guys apart.” The former Dublin employee got the impression that “the attitude from the higher-ups was You emotional Muslims seem upset; let’s have this conversation where you feel heard, to calm you down. Which is hilarious, because a lot of us weren’t even Muslim. Besides, the objection was never, Hey, we’re from the Middle East and this hurts our feelings.” Rather, their message was “In our expert opinion, this post violates the policies. So what’s the deal?”
One of the things moderating my own communities over the years has taught me is that the more you pretend your rules are “neutral,” the more trouble you’re going to get yourself into in the long term.
A private community is not a state; it doesn’t have rule of law and the institutions needed to support it, like separation of powers between the body that makes laws versus the body that enforces them. It also has no accountability; general users can’t change Facebook’s TOS if they don’t like it, for example. And pretending that this sort of system is workable in private communities in general—particularly ones held or owned by individuals—is extreme galaxy brain STEM-kid-needed-to-take-a-humanities-class bullshit…