Facebook still has trouble removing white supremacists, study says

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Facebook’s crackdown on hate speech apparently has room for improvement. As The Washington Post explains, the non-profit watchdog Tech Transparency Project (TTP) has published a study indicating that white supremacist groups still have a significant presence on the social network. Over 80 of these racist organizations have a presence on Facebook, some of which the company has already labeled as “dangerous organizations” it normally bans. Researchers found 119 pages and 20 groups, including 24 pages Facebook auto-generated when users listed white supremacist groups as employers or interests.

Searches were also problematic, according to the watchdog. Facebook displayed ads next to searches for white supremacist groups, even when those outfits were on the social site’s blocklist. Recommendations steered visitors to other hate pages, and Facebook’s tactic of redirecting users to pro-tolerance groups was only effective for 14 percent out of 226 searches. Some searches for supremacists displayed ads for Black churches. This could effectively identify targets for extremists, TTP said.

In a statement to Engadget, Meta said it “immediately” began removing ads from searches linked to banned groups. It also said it was fixing the issue with a “small number” of auto-generated pages. The company further vowed to keep working with outside experts to “stay ahead” of hate and other extremist content. You can read the full statement below.

The survival of these groups on Facebook isn’t completely surprising. University of Michigan associate professor Libby Hemphill told The Post that hate groups are increasingly aware of how to dodge content restrictions. Online platforms are frequently scrambling to adapt, and the TTP study suggests they’re not always successful.

Even so, the findings add to Meta’s headaches. They come just weeks after GLAAD accused Meta brands of doing too little to protect LGBTQ users, and relatively soon after whistleblower Frances Haugen said Facebook’s algorithmic content filtering only caught a “tiny minority” of hate speech. There’s plenty of pressure to ramp up anti-hate measures, and it’s not yet clear how well the latest fixes will help.

“All 270 groups that Meta has designated as white supremacist organizations are banned from our platform. We invest extensively in technology, people, and research to keep our platforms safe. We immediately resolved an issue where ads were appearing in searches for terms related to banned organizations and we are also working to fix an auto generation issue, which incorrectly impacted a small number of pages. We will continue to work with outside experts and organizations in an effort to stay ahead of violent, hateful, and terrorism-related content and remove such content from our platforms.”

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