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Facebook accidentally released a button that let you label anything as hate speech

The company says the release was an accident, but it comes amid increasing scrutiny over hate speech on the platform.

by Tess Owen
May 1 2018, 4:56pm

Reuters

If you logged on to Facebook on Tuesday, you might have noticed a new button under every item on your feed that asked if you’d like to report the content as hate speech.

The button was short-lived: Within two hours of it appearing, it had vanished.

“This was an internal test we were working on to understand different types of speech, including speech we thought would not be hate,” a spokesperson for Facebook told VICE News in an email. “A bug caused it to launch publicly. It’s been disabled.”

Facebook’s test comes amid increasing scrutiny over whether the social media company is proactively identifying and removing hate speech or hate groups from its platform. Last month, during his congressional testimony, CEO Mark Zuckerberg said Facebook doesn’t allow hate groups to use its service whatsoever.

A screenshot of Facebook's hate speech test.

Yet a quick search on Facebook suggested some hate groups operate openly on Facebook. VICE News identified dozens of pages filled with racist memes and anti-Semitic comments. We also found two pages linked to the most prominent white nationalist in the U.S., Richard Spencer, with a combined total of 15,000 followers. After we flagged those pages to Facebook, they were removed from the platform.

Read: White nationalist Richard Spencer’s pages just got kicked off Facebook

Facebook has increasingly found itself walking a fine line between cracking down on hate speech and protecting free speech — a distinction that can be murky. In an effort to be more transparent about how it decides where that line is, last week the company published its internal guide for community standards, which includes a section on hate speech.

Read: Facebook is letting white nationalist hate groups operate in the open

“We define hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disability or disease,” Facebook's guide states. “We also provide some protections for immigration status. We define 'attack' as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation.”