Less than a week after that event, ProPublica published leaked Facebook moderator training materials that, in no uncertain terms, said that the platform protects “white men,” but not “black children.” The deafening silence in the industry, as compared to the noise about Facebook adding a word to their mission statement, has been incredible.
For a critical look at these issues, we changed the format of Community Signal for the first time ever, putting together a panel of previous guests, who are veterans of the industry: Scott Moore of Digital Promise Global and Venessa Paech of Australia Post. Among our topics:
- What adding “community” to Facebook’s mission statement actually means
- How the announced Facebook Groups improvements impact their viability as a tool
- The glaring problems with Facebook’s leaked moderation training documents
Our Podcast is Made Possible By…
If you enjoy our show, please know that it’s only possible with the generous support of our sponsor: Higher Logic.
“I know some folks in the community space are feeling really jazzed about having such a large company put ‘community’ in their mission statement. It’s a double edged sword because if they don’t come through, it’s painted a target on the word ‘community,’ yet again, which I’ve lived through many times, where community gets bought into as a concept but there’s no payoff. There’s no work that’s really done to actually build community. It’s a nice word and everyone feels good about it and then, in the end, when it doesn’t work out, people turn against community and then we all wind up going back and suffering because nobody cares about community because Facebook tried to do community, and they failed.” -@scottmoore
“Communities built on Facebook thrive despite Facebook, not because of it and that’s always been the case. … Community builders are working uphill, and community members are working uphill, to actually stitch together communities in that space.” -@venessapaech
“Facebook is a data mining company, fundamentally. Really, if they are serious about [adding ‘community’ to their] mission statement, it infers a necessary change of business model or a reflexive business model, which I don’t necessarily have confidence that they’re going to do or that they’re ready for.” -@venessapaech
“Words are cool. Saying the word ‘community’ is great… but as we sit here today, Facebook Groups represent an utterly terrible tool set that suffers from success. … This exceptionally poor tool set is, we can’t forget, provided by the world’s eighth most valuable company. I’m supportive of Facebook and their tools but let’s not turn into cheerleaders because they are moving closer to where they already should’ve been.” -@patrickokeefe
“[A] killer app component [to Facebook Groups] is that it allows you to hide from the rest of Facebook, in that you can carve off a semi-private space; private, using that word loosely, but from the rest of the noise of the newsfeed. You can, theoretically, remove yourself from the algorithmic filters to a certain extent so, arguably, you have a little bit more control. But again, this is not rocket science. This is not particularly revolutionary stuff. If the best feature you have is that it takes you away from the rest of the features of your product, I think you have a problem.” -@venessapaech
“In my new role working with teachers globally, Facebook actually doesn’t even have discoverability. For example, especially in the United States, Facebook is blocked from school access and educators like to be where their students are. As soon as I arrived, I said, ‘What if we tried to do this on a Facebook group?’ Instantly, it was just like, ‘Well, let’s teach you about the fact that nobody can get access to Facebook.'” -@scottmoore
“Will any of us really be shocked when Facebook cuts your group reach and makes you pay? Facebook can’t be a serious community platform, in my eyes, until I can take data and members because, when that happens, that’s when the power shifts a little bit and we’re not just a product. When they have to actually cater to us is when we can leave.” -@patrickokeefe
“Facebook uses that language, ‘meaningful groups.’ There was a strong emphasis on that in [Mark Zuckerberg’s] manifesto but we don’t have meaningful functionality that allows us to create and support meaningful interaction. It’s that question of whose perspective? Meaningful to whom? What is meaningful to Mark Zuckerberg, and his communities, will obviously be entirely different to myself or to you, and every other community builder or person that’s a member of a community.” -@venessapaech
“I’ve been disgusted by the fact that some community industry leaders have been beating the drum about Facebook adding the word ‘community’ to their mission statement but dead silent – crickets silent – on the recent leak of Facebook training materials that defined white men as a protected group but black children as an unprotected group.” -@patrickokeefe
“Often, when I raise [concerns about Facebook’s ethics], people say, ‘Why are you picking on Facebook and not Google and not all these other companies that also do dodgy things?’ Well, sure some of them have dubious practices or things that you can raise an eyebrow at, but the difference is that Facebook wants to become the internet. The reality is that there are billions and billions of people that are living their lives and playing them out on Facebook now, so whether Facebook intended to or not, and that can be argued, they now have a duty of care to billions of people. That is not an easy position to be in. It is a super complicated position to be in, but it’s not one that you can ignore and, if you do, then I think you need your toys taken away from you.” -@venessapaech
“Not only [is Facebook] creating culture but they’re attempting to create a uni-culture for two billion people. Now, whether they’re successful or not, that’s a lot of people and that can reflect back out into the rest of culture. Beyond Facebook, if you’re creating a set of norms and you’re trying to enforce that set of norms and you have any degree of success at doing that consistently worldwide and you keep adding more people into that, then those cultural norms will start to take hold in other places. So Facebook has a much greater responsibility than they may even realize at this point. They can actually be affecting culture way outside of Facebook. They already are in lots of different ways, but specifically in this idea of what is a protected class? What is free speech? Who is deserving of speech? And the kinds of ways you can talk about different groups of people. That’s a little frightening. But they need to step up to that.” -@scottmoore
“The idea of building community on Facebook, for me, has always been about getting people to act like they aren’t on Facebook.” -@patrickokeefe
“Barriers to entry and creating a sense of membership criteria, [the types of] these things that sort of matter and help define a community and help set it up for success, in many respects, aren’t really the norm on Facebook, so it does change how you interact and it therefore impacts the way you approach community management. Do you push back or do you acquiesce? What might that even mean to the culture of the communities that spring up and that we help create in the future? Are they going to be as distinct as they once were or are they all going to have a layer of Facebook in them?” -@venessapaech
About Scott Moore
Scott Moore has over 20 years experience establishing, growing and fostering large and small online communities, and the teams that support those communities, using a variety of community platforms including virtual worlds, live chat systems, forums and unconferences. He currently works at Digital Promise Global, developing networks and communities of educators around the world working together to empower students as empathetic, compassionate creators and changemakers.
Scott has fostered and directed community at Answers.com, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Communities.com and Fujitsu and consulted with clients such as Healthsparq, Diabetes Hands Foundation, Edutopia and Autodesk. He seeks opportunities to use his experience in online communities to help people help each other to make a positive change in their own lives and those around them.
Disclosure: Digital Promise Global is partnering with Facebook’s Oculus to inspire the next generation of virtual reality creators, starting with the 360 Filmmakers Challenge for high school students.
About Venessa Paech
Venessa Paech is the community manager for Australia Post. She has built and managed a large array of online communities for multi-national brands, startups, governments and non-profits, including travel publishers Lonely Planet and REA Group (who own and operate the $5 billion dollar ASX-listed realestate.com.au).
In 2009, she founded the Australian Community Manager Roundtable and, in 2011, co-founded Swarm, Australia’s first and only community management conference. In 2015, she commissioned and released the first Australian Community Management career survey with Quiip and Dialogue Consulting.
Venessa has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theatre from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and a Master of Arts degree in virtual ethnography from the University of Brighton. She is a published scholar on online communities and a speaker and consultant on communities and cultures.
This list of links is not complete, and will be updated once our transcript is available.
- Sponsor: Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers
- Mark Zuckerberg’s post about adding the word “community” to Facebook’s mission statement
- “Our First Communities Summit and New Tools for Group Admins” by Kang-Xing Jin, covering Facebook’s announcement improvements to Facebook Groups
- Scott on Twitter
- Venessa’s website
- Digital Global Promise, where Scott is online community manager
- Digital Global Promise’s 360 Filmmakers Challenge for high school students, a partnership with Facebook’s Oculus
- Australia Post, where Venessa is community manager
- Swarm, Australia’s first and only community manager conference, co-founded by Venessa and Alison Michalk
- The 2015 Australian Community Managers Survey, from Swarm, Quiip and Dialogue Consulting
- “Facebook’s ‘Community’ Announcements and the Reality of Facebook Groups” by Patrick
- Community Signal episode with Alison Michalk, titled “Facebook Doesn’t Have the Moderation Tools of Forums in 2000”
- Community Signal episode with Howard Rheingold
- Community Signal episode with Cosette Paneque
- Cosette Paneque’s tweet about how Facebook could cut the reach of Groups
- “Overhauling Groups Won’t Help Facebook Build Communities” by Davey Alba for Wired
- “Facebook’s Secret Censorship Rules Protect White Men from Hate Speech But Not Black Children” by Julia Angwin and Hannes Grassegger for ProPublica
- “Revealed: Facebook’s Internal Rulebook on Sex, Terrorism and Violence” by Nick Hopkins for The Guardian
- Civil Rights Act of 1964
- Community Signal episode where we discussed the Facebook murder video
- “Hard Questions: Hate Speech” by Richard Allen, Facebook’s VP of EMEA public policy, about the challenge that Facebook faces in moderating hate speech
- “The Unconscious Bias in Facebook’s Moderation Problem” by Venessa
- Did you like the panel format? Please let us know via email or on Twitter
- Venessa on Twitter
- Social Media Clarity, a podcast hosted by Scott, Marc Smith and Randy Farmer
- Scott on LinkedIn
00:04: You’re listening to Community Signal, the podcast for online community professionals. Sponsored by Higher Logic, the community platform for community managers. Tweet as you listen using #CommunitySignal. Here’s your host, Patrick O’Keefe.
00:24 Patrick O’Keefe: Hello and thank you for making Community Signal a part of your day. For the first 77 episodes of this show, the format has been the same. Me with a single guest going in depth and I’ve never had anyone on twice. Today we’re doing something totally new. Well, not totally new to the world but totally new to our program. A panel featuring previous guests from the show and we’re going to focus on one specific topic. On this episode, we’re focusing on Facebook’s recent addition of the word “community” to their mission statement combined with a plan to improve Facebook groups. Before I introduce the panel, I’d like to thank Carol Benovic-Bradley, Serena Snoad and Sarah Judd Welch for supporting our program on Patreon.
01:03 Patrick O’Keefe: If you find value in community signal, please consider becoming a member of our inner circle and receive some great perks for doing so. You can find out more at communitysignal.com/innercircle. Joining me on this panel is Scott Moore and Venessa Paech. Scott Moore has over 20 years’ experience establishing, growing and fostering large and small online communities and the teams that support those communities using a variety of community platforms including virtual worlds, live chat systems, forums, and conferences. He currently works at Digital Promise Global, developing networks and communities of educators around the world working together to empower students as empathetic, compassionate creators and change makers. Scott has fostered and directed community at Answers.com, the Charles and Helen Schwab Foundation, Communities.com, and Fujitsu and consulted with clients such as Healthsparq, Diabetes Hands Foundation, Edutopia, and Autodesk. He seeks opportunities to use his experience in online communities to help people help each other to make a positive change in their own lives and those around them.
01:58 Patrick O’Keefe: As a point of disclosure, Digital Promise Global is partnering with Facebook’s Oculus to inspire the next generation of virtual reality creators starting with high school students’ 360 Filmmaker’s Challenge. Venessa Paech is the community manager for Australia Post. She has built and managed a large array of online communities for multinational brands, startups, government, and nonprofits including travel publisher’s Lonely Planet and REA Group, who own and operate the $5 billion dollar ASX-listed realestate.com.au. In 2009, she founded the Australian Community Manager Roundtable and in 2011, co-founded Swarm, Australia’s first and only community management conference. In 2015, she commissioned and released the first Australian community management career survey with Quiip and Dialogue Consulting. Venessa has a Bachelor of Fine Arts in musical theater form the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University and a Master of Arts degree in virtual ethnography from the University of Brighton. She is a published scholar on online communities and a speaker and consultant on communities and cultures. Scott, welcome to the program.
02:57 Scott Moore: Thanks Patrick. It’s great to be here.
02:58 Patrick O’Keefe: Venessa, thank you for joining me again.
03:00 Venessa Paech: It’s a pleasure to join you both.
03:02 Patrick O’Keefe: So I think it’s going to be a fun conversation because I’ve been talking about Facebook recently and I don’t know if everyone loves it or not but it’s how I feel and you two are two professionals that I have so much respect for in the industry because of your unique depth of experience and your perspective so let’s jump right into it. On June 22nd, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced a new mission for the company’s next decade. “Bring the world closer together.” He elaborated on that. The full mission statement is, “Give people the power to build community and bring the world closer together.” The addition of the word “community.” What does it mean to you, Venessa?
03:39 Venessa Paech: It’s very contentious. So, I guess I’d start by saying I’m really glad to see the word “community appear” in a Facebook’s mission statement in Zuckerberg’s extensive manifesto that he produced as part of that announcement and that it seems that as though community will be more of a focus of the business.
03:59 Venessa Paech: I think that’s a good sign. I think it’s one that’s about a decade too late, arguably, but I do think it’s one that, certainly, community management professionals and people that use the platform have been crying for, for a long time. So in that regard, I think it’s really great. I am a little cynical. I will confess not so much necessarily about Facebook’s intent but about their capacity to pull that off which is something we can discuss. I think of it… It’s interesting the choice of words, “The power to build community.” I would argue that people already have the power to build community and do so very compellingly in all sorts of context. What I would propose as a, perhaps, more interesting mission statement for Facebook given its potential and scale and its capability is how can Facebook help people build communities more effectively, more scalable, more insert something else here. So what is it that’s unique about Facebook’s product and offering that can change the way that we build community in a meaningful or positive way?
05:00 Venessa Paech: That might be a different way to frame the conversation. So, I think it’s good. I definitely think it’s overdue and I think it’s going to be a challenge given all sorts of things about the reality of Facebook which I’m sure we’ll talk about.
05:13 Patrick O’Keefe: Anything Scott?
05:14 Scott Moore: I admit I am much more cynical about it. I’ve been in meetings with CEO’s of companies who have been wanting to add or have added community to their mission and I agree 100% with what Venessa said. I think much more skeptical on their capacity to come through with it but I’m also skeptical because Facebook is a business that is putting its money around advertising. It’s an advertising platform. Sure, it’s a social platform but that’s how they’re monetizing and so that still winds up having a play in any of the decision they’re making no matter how lofty they get. And I think… I’m a little concerned. I know some folks in the community space are feeling really jazzed about having such a large company put community in their mission statement.
06:02 Scott Moore: I think it’s a double edged sword because if they don’t come through, it’s painted a target on the word community yet again which I’ve lived through many times where community gets bought into as a concept but there’s no payoff. There’s no work that’s really done to actually build community. It’s a nice word and everyone feels good about and then in the end, when it doesn’t work out, people turn against community and then we all wind up going back and suffering because nobody cares about community because Facebook tried to do community and they failed. I’m very, very wary about those words in the mission statement. It requires leadership to back up those words and it requires more than just Mark Zuckerberg to back up those words in terms of leadership. His entire leadership team has to be able to put the teeth behind and literally give room for people to help others build community at Facebook or it won’t happen.
07:01 Patrick O’Keefe: You mentioned advertising and it’s interesting. It’s always important to note that when it comes to Facebook, this has been the case for the entirety of the site’s history, it’s the case now and I don’t know that it’ll change but we are not, and I say we as the community and community builders, people building community on Facebook, we our communities are not the customer for Facebook. We’re essentially the product for advertisers. Yes, we can get them some traffic that they can sell to advertisers but, first and foremost, that’s the goal of the platform. They’re not like a community software company who might have more of a reason to serve the industry or the communities or community builders. They are really driven by the ad dollars.
07:37 Venessa Paech: You’re absolutely right and I think that communities built on Facebook thrive despite Facebook, not because of it and that’s always been the case. And despite some iterations and some improvement in functionality, although, as I think we pointed out in the industry a few times generally speaking, particularly when it comes to community, it’s functionality that things like forums had back in 2000.
08:03 Venessa Paech: It’s not particularly new or sophisticated or truly inventive functionality. But despite those improvements, it fundamentally hasn’t changed the fact that community builders are working uphill and community members are working uphill to actually stitch together communities in that space. Now some do so despite that and significant kudos to them because of it. I really agree with what Scott said though and I think it ties into what you said, Patrick, that Facebook is, I would go further and say, it’s a data mining company, fundamentally. Really, if they are serious about that change of mission statement, it infers a necessary change of business model or a reflexive business model which I don’t necessarily have confidence that they’re going to do or that they’re ready for. I think that’s a little blasphemous when it comes to Facebook. The tinkering with the business model.
08:53 Scott Moore: That’s a good segue way into the groups because I think that the group functionality they discuss belies the words of the mission.
09:00 Patrick O’Keefe: Yeah, so this iterative approach. The things they’ve announced. The changes in groups. This announcement, both the group announcement and this community mission statement announcement was made at the first ever Facebook Community Summit in front of hundreds of group administrators. When it came to the most popular tool for community building on the platform, Facebook Groups, they announced, I would say, a modest set of new and upcoming features. Better statistical insights for the group. Some additional filtering fields for membership requests and improvement to the member removal tool. The ability to schedule posts as well as group linking which appears to just be a link. A sidebar link, kind of, where you can recommend different groups to members. Venessa mentioned that 2000 remark and when I had Venessa’s Swarm co-founder, Alison Michalk, on the show more than a year ago, I named the episode “Facebook Doesn’t Have the Moderation Tools of Forums in 2000” and once these new features are rolled out, that will still be true and going a little further, when I had community legend Harold Rheingold on the podcast in October, he said something fascinating to me about Facebook groups.
09:59 Patrick O’Keefe: He said, “Unfortunately, I think that Facebook has somewhat degraded people’s ideas of what a forum should be. Facebook Groups really don’t do forums very well. In fact, I was invited to talk to about 100 people, the social science researchers at Facebook, a while back and I pounded them on it. They’re smart people. I can’t believe that this is done because they’re not aware of how forums operate. There must be a business reason for why they want the forums to be badly organized.” And once these features are rolled out, again, this is all still true. Words are cool. Saying the word “community” is great and I even like Facebook and Mark Zuckerberg for that matter but as we sit here today, Facebook Groups represent an utterly, in my opinion, terrible tool set that suffers from success. The problems become more glaring as you grow. As you find that you can’t organize a discussion. As you scale with trouble makers in moderation and this exceptionally poor tool set is, we can’t forget, provided by the world’s eighth most valuable company. I’m supportive of Facebook and their tools but let’s not turn into cheerleaders because they are moving closer to where they already should’ve been and I’m just kind of restating, I guess, Venessa’s point there but let’s not become blind to the obvious downsides that Facebook represents as a platform.
11:06 Patrick O’Keefe: Maybe that’s harsh. I don’t know.
11:09 Scott Moore: Oh, we haven’t begun to be harsh.
11:15 Venessa Paech: I agree. I’m being very tempered.
11:17 Scott Moore: Okay, let’s get into it. I want to pick on a couple of these features. There are two things that I want to call out. The first one is your actions speak louder than your words and the actions of the features that Facebook rolled out for groups speak louder than what they put in the mission statement and there’s two things that I think nail this one. Part of it is the group insights which I’m all for. Give people better metrics and give people better ways of understanding what’s going on but the word engagement popped out to me on that one and in conjunction with the other feature that they talked about which was scheduled posts. How many community managers have begged them for scheduled posts and what those two together tell me is Facebook is still thinking about engagement in terms of content.
12:03 Scott Moore: You do a scheduled post. You find out when people are on. You schedule your posts when people are on and then you get “engagement” with the content. You get likes or reactions or replies but nothing in these tools that they said and maybe they just didn’t announce it is how are people talking to each other. Are they mentioning each other? Are they replying to each other? What are the inter-community interactions that are happening in your group because that’s community. Reacting to a post that a host makes, you know, especially if I schedule the post, isn’t community in my opinion.
12:41 Venessa Paech: I agree. That lens that you’re describing is still fundamentally a broadcast lens and we’re fundamentally talking about social audiences, which is perfectly fine but it is entirely different to community.
12:53 Scott Moore: The other feature that they called out and I read it more closely today and was stunned when you really read it and this is a quote from the Facebook blog post and it’s about the member clean up. “To help keep their communities safe from bad actors, group admins can now remove a person and the content they’ve created within groups including posts, comments, and other people added to the group in one step.” So wait, there’s three things here. One, bad actors. Behavior is the problem in communities, not the people. Two, the ban hammer is not the solution. It’s a temporary tool that’s very specific. And then three, the fact that you can kick out all the people that that person then invited has some amazing potential for nasty trolling.
13:45 Patrick O’Keefe: I would like to take a moment to recognize our excellent sponsor, Higher Logic. Higher Logic is the community platform for community managers with over 25 million engaged users in more than 200,000 communities. Organizations worldwide use Higher Logic to bring like-minded people together by giving their community a home where they can meet, share ideas and stay connected. The platform’s granular permissions and powerful tools, including automated workflows and consolidated email digests, empower users to create their own interest-based communities, schedule and manage events, and participate in volunteer and mentoring programs. Tap into the power your community can generate for you. Higher Logic, all together.
14:21 Patrick O’Keefe: And you made an interesting point because if look at this tool set, actually none of these features have to do with people interacting with one another. I think that’s a really interesting point. I hadn’t even thought about it, taking a step back. The analytics have nothing to do with people interacting with one another. Certainly scheduling posts doesn’t really. Filtering for membership requests, filtering by gender doesn’t really have much to do with people interacting with one another. Group linking, pushing people towards other groups, I guess, maybe if you stretch it. It’s like a link exchange, more or less, at this point. Banning people. You’re right. There’s nothing there that impacts how people interact with one another or gives them better organization or some customization in notifications. Anything.
14:59 Patrick O’Keefe: There’s nothing in that vein so that’s a really interesting point.
15:02 Scott Moore: Yeah, these would definitely help you manage a large, branded group.
15:08 Patrick O’Keefe: Venessa?
15:09 Venessa Paech: Something Scott said just then brings up a very interesting point to me which is that functionality that lets you extricate that nefarious actor and everyone they ever brought in and them and the horse they rode in on, you’re effectively unraveling the fabric of your discussion, your community history and everything else. So, to me, that touches on one of the continuingly glaring flows in Facebook’s group functionality which is of course the truly impoverished search functionality and when you’re building community, as I don’t need to tell you guys, that shared history is really important. We still have no way to access or manage those important and historical conversations. However, we do now have a way to pull that apart.
15:51 Patrick O’Keefe: Right. I mean, it’s just gone. I think that’s one of the reasons people don’t invest as much in groups when it comes to spending time writing content is that it’s like the stock ticker.
16:00 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s just going to slide down. The discoverability of old content is so low. You’re not popping up in Google helping people with your answer.
16:09 Venessa Paech: It’s just the lack of those levers that you pull as a community manager, exactly, to bubble things up. To let things simmer down just to help massage those group dynamics that you understand are important to the building of those relationships. They’re still absent and we’re still sitting in the middle of this… An ambient environment which is, you know, social networks, by their nature, do tend to be that and that’s part of what can make them particularly great at certain things makes them quite incompatible to community building.
16:37 Patrick O’Keefe: Looking at Facebook Groups and looking at this soberly, just cast aside the announcement, right now, what really are the killer features of a Facebook group? Like what stands out? For me, the only thing that Facebook has is discoverability, right. People are there and we can be injected into the notifications and into their newsfeed but I struggle to name a killer feature beyond that. Is there really anything else that they are truly great at as a platform, Facebook Groups specifically?
17:03 Venessa Paech: I don’t think they’re great at anything else. The only other killer app component is that it allows you to hide from the rest of Facebook.
17:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Interesting. Good point.
17:11 Venessa Paech: In that you can carve off a semi-private space, private, using that word loosely but, you know, from the rest of the noise of the newsfeed, you can, theoretically, remove yourself from the algorithmic filters to a certain extent so, arguably, you have a little bit more control. A little bit more visibility. But again, this is not rocket science. This is not particularly revolutionary stuff. If the best feature you have is that it takes you away from the rest of the features of your product, I think you have a problem.
17:42 Scott Moore: I’ll add that in my new role in working with teachers, not just in the US, but globally, Facebook actually doesn’t even have discoverability forming. For example, especially in the United States, I don’t exactly everywhere else, but Facebook is blocked from school access and educators like to be where their students are.
18:00 Scott Moore: And so as soon as I arrived, I said, “What if we tried to do this on a Facebook group?” And, instantly, it was just like, well, let’s teach you about the fact that nobody can get access to Facebook. So, for me, discoverability doesn’t even exist for Facebook so I have no reason, right now, to build a community on Facebook. Zero.
18:19 Patrick O’Keefe: Because Facebook is like a personal platform that gets blocked from work and schools. That’s interesting. It’s like… I’m trying to remember old community aggregator platforms that would be blocked from school where people could still visit my forum because it was on its own domain. So that was a plus.
18:34 Scott Moore: Yeah, exactly. That’s why we’re doing it the way we are. We’re getting a platform that we’re hosting so that we don’t get blocked or we can at least talk to schools and say, “Look. We’re safe.”
18:43 Venessa Paech: I think that’s another really interesting point that you both kind of raised there, to me, which is the mindset that one is in when one is using Facebook. So you got these communities that have their own domain. They have their own destination. They are created, one assumes, fit for the purpose of that community.
19:00 Venessa Paech: There’s an expectation then about when you show up there, whether that’s on your phone, on a desktop, however you get there, when you show there, you are, therefore, some reason to do with that community whereas the Facebook effect or the any other social network effect is that you’re there just because everybody’s there all the time and hey, why not build community while we’re here. So community sort of remains the afterthought almost whereas when you’ve got that custom destination, it is fit for purpose and there’s an expectation about the motivation and the drivers that are bringing you to that place. Now, absolutely, does that mean you’ll probably get in front of less people? Yes, in this day and age, it certainly does but is that necessarily a bad thing if what you’re trying to do is build a community of purpose or of interest around a particular goal or objective. I don’t think that it is a bad thing.
19:49 Patrick O’Keefe: The notification, newsfeed thing is so tenuous too because I’ve been part of groups where I’ve been added and it was spam so I made a couple of clicks and never heard from that group ever, ever again because it was annoying.
20:00 Patrick O’Keefe: And when I tweeted about this previous guest of the show, Cosette Paneque made a smart observation saying, “I can’t imagine Facebook will let brands run groups for free in the long run. Like reach, group discoverability will change.” I mean, will any of us really be shocked when Facebook cuts your group reach and makes you pay? And for me, that’s why Facebook can’t be a serious community platform. Like a super serious community platform, in my eyes, until I can take data and the members because, when that happens, that’s when the power shifts a little bit and we’re not just a product. When they have to actually cater to us is when we can leave. Once they do that and I say once in a oddly optimistic way, when that happens, if that happens, that’s when I will look at Facebook as a more serious player in the platform space because as long as we’re locked, that’s the first question I ask any community platform vendor that pitches, which it does happen fairly often, is how can I leave you? And Facebook, you can’t leave.
20:58 Venessa Paech: There was a really interesting article I read recently around the new groups functionality on Wired where a community builder was talking about the fact that the analytics, those other features. All well and good but what they really were interested in, is things that are relevant for their communities that they built. Subscriptions, native sponsorships, the ability to actually get a little bit flexible with that business model, features that can generate revenue that group admins or community managers could then use to actually strengthen and expand those groups and of course that’s highly unlikely in the Facebook environment but I guess the point is those were meaningful features for that community builder and those community members and Facebook uses that language. You know, meaningful groups. There was a strong emphasis on that in that manifesto but we don’t have meaningful functionality that allows us to create and support meaningful interaction. So, you know, it’s that question of whose perspective? Meaningful to whom? So, what is meaningful to Mark Zuckerberg and his communities will obviously be entirely different to myself or to you, Scott, or to you, Patrick, and every other community builder or person that’s a member of a community.
22:04 Venessa Paech: So, it’s that question of… The need for reflexiveness when community is not one size fits all.
22:10 Patrick O’Keefe: I’m fine with my definition of being the one they use. That would be fine. I don’t really care about your guys’ definitions. Sorry. No, just kidding. So and now I’m laughing and I’m going to transition to something super serious because I felt like I would be remiss to have this conversation without bringing up some of the moderation training manual links that have been popping up with Facebook over the last couple months. Personally, I’ve been sort of disgusted by the fact that some community industry leaders have been beating this drum about Facebook adding the word “community” to their mission state but dead silent, cricket silent, on the recent leak of Facebook training materials that defined, white men as a protected group but black children as an unprotected group. For me, this was the biggest takeaway from the Facebook Community Summit since it all happened right about the same time. I talked about this online and, Scott, you said something that was short but powerful, to me, which was, “I still don’t get the logic. Children should be protected above all else. Period.” Talk about that.
23:05 Scott Moore: I’m appalled. I’ve gone back and looked at the documents and it literally says in the slides for training, here are the classes that we don’t protect and age is one of them and I’m like, hello? Okay, I realize you’re not the beholden to national laws per se but, and I will say this, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 of the United States lists age as a protected class. The UN doesn’t have protected classes but they have a lot that they say about human rights and protecting children. The concept that you are not protecting children because what that pushes you into saying is well, no, we don’t protect children. I was like what? Go ahead. Say that publicly.
23:49 Patrick O’Keefe: I don’t know. It’s so weird to me that this would be a training manual picture. That someone would put black children in a training manual and that verbiage, that picture, and say this is not a protected group. I don’t know. Thoughts Venessa?
24:02 Venessa Paech: I have many thoughts. Exactly what you guys said. Look, how is this a thing? Really, how is this a thing? It’s kind of unbelievable. It’s genuinely jaw dropping that particular point about children. It is reprehensible in my view. This is where I do have concerns around the way Facebook operates from an ethical point of view in this regard and often when I raise that and I do often raise it as a commentator occasionally and people sort of say, oh why are you picking on Facebook and not Google and not all these other companies that also do dodgy things here and there? Well sure some of them do have, I guess, dubious practices or things that you can raise an eyebrow at but the difference is that Facebook wants to become the internet and the reality is that there are billions and billions of people that are living their lives and playing them out on Facebook now so whether Facebook intended to or not and that can be argued, they now have a duty of care to billions of people.
25:00 Venessa Paech: That is not an easy position to be in. It is a super complicated position to be in but it’s not one that you can ignore and if you do, then I think you need your toys taken away from you.
25:09 Patrick O’Keefe: And like you, I sympathize with community moderators. I am one. We all are. People who do real community work tend to have a hand in moderation in one way or another. Moderation is one of the key elements of, in my opinion, world changing online communities. That’s how we create these amazing environments where people can feel safe and I also sympathize with the position Facebook is in. I mean, communications platform, PR nightmare, biggest pile of UGC in the history of the internet, you know, whatever you want to call it, it’s a unique scale and it’s so tough and I get annoyed when people in the media who don’t understand moderation try to act like it’s an easy thing, right. But these training manuals make them look so utterly disconnected and I’ve defended Facebook moderation at times. For example, the murder video that was posted a while back, you know, people want Facebook to respond in seconds or minutes. They responded in two hours. I don’t think we can stop people from doing bad things all the time and I also think portions of these guidelines are even okay and fine and well-rounded so it’s not all bad.
26:00 Patrick O’Keefe: But there are things here that really make me wonder and in addition to the black children slide, please excuse my language but through this leak combined with a similar leak in May, we have learned that it’s okay to say things like, “Unless you stop bitching, I’ll have to cut your tongue out.” “To snap a bitch’s neck, make sure to apply all your pressure to the middle of her throat.” “I hope someone kills you.” But it’s not okay to say, “The French are the best but the Irish suck.” And I’m Irish and my name is Patrick O’Keefe. These are sort of extreme examples for the leaks but at some point you kind of have to make a choice. Facebook’s VP Of EMEA public policy, wrote a blog post where he talked about the complexity of international communication and the difficulty to assigning motivation to uses of particularly sensitive words and he’s not wrong. It’s not an easy problem. His post is well reasoned. Some people want more restrictions, some less. Venessa, you wrote that Facebook’s moderation efforts have “unconscious bias problem.” Talk about that.
26:53 Venessa Paech: Yeah, so I think you hit the nail on the head there because that language, those comments you mentioned are exceptionally disturbing and I have to say as a women on the internet and a women who’s been on the internet for 20 years, it’s just you’re average day, which is disgusting, but it is something that certain groups, women often being one of those groups, do face a disproportionate amount of abuse online and I guess my point in the piece that I wrote was that, certainly, I know from my own experience and from talking with other community managers and other people that just use these platforms and try to be a good digital citizen and report abuse when they see it and report that upward to the platform so that action can be taken. First of all, there’s a kind of a square peg run hole problem so often what you’re reporting doesn’t neatly fit into a series of very tiny categories and, again, you make the point fairly that you can’t possibly have… It’d be an endless list if you had category for everything but there are a few key things that aren’t really on there particularly with regard to the rape threat crisis that we see online impacting women. I guess the other thing is, you know, that idea of community standards and who’s community standards. So Facebook’s community standards.
28:01 Venessa Paech: Universal policies don’t work. There’s decades and decades of social science and very smart people to point to that can prove to you that one set of policies for the planet is not really going to fly. What’s acceptable to one community is not to another and fitting everything into this very neat view that is, for a start, has a US focus, of course, because Facebook’s an American company. I wouldn’t expect it to be any other way but what’s relevant to the US is not necessarily relevant to the rest of the world particularly when it comes to things like free speech which other countries manage in a different way. They manage their responsibility of that speech in a different way and the bias point, I think, Facebook will argue that they want to stay out of it. They kind of want to hand it over to the users; the utility. I can appreciate that defense to a degree however, of course they are already interventionists. When Facebook chooses to remove a picture of a mother breastfeeding but not one of those graphic comments that you described, that is a choice by the lack of a choice and that is actually creating a cultural norm and it’s creating normative behavior.
29:05 Venessa Paech: That sort of stuff flows through the platform. Their world view is particular to them and it’s not shared by a lot of other people so I would argue that their policies and their positions already censor, naturally, any set of policies or moderation positions already does by virtue of itself existing and that creates a culture. That’s the start of creating a culture so to argue that they don’t want to get into it is, I think, problematic. If they never got into anything, it would be a fair argument. Who knows what we might face on the platform but I think that you’re already in the mix so it’s a bit of a straw man argument to say you don’t want to get into anymore. Then I have particular issue with… Either I find quite misogynistic tie ins in some of those policies. There’s clearly some… The racial, social, socio-economic is in there as well. They’re written by people with a particular world view so I challenged in my article, I just challenged Facebook, and I don’t know. Maybe they do, do this.
30:00 Venessa Paech: But I said, “How many people of color were in the room when these policies were put together? How many women were in the room… Did you run them by people?” They seem like basic questions and maybe they did do that and this is the product of that. I’m not seeing evidence that it’s been created by anyone other than a particularly small group of people with a particular world view in a small room and then try and apply that as a universal community standard is going to be very problematic.
30:42 Scott Moore: I want to pick up Venessa’s point about creating culture and double down on it because not only are they creating culture but they’re creating culture, or attempting to create, a uni-culture for two billion people. Now, whether they’re successful or not, that’s a lot of people and that can reflect back out into the rest of the culture. So beyond Facebook, if you’re creating a set of norms and you’re trying to enforce that set of norms and you have any degree of success at doing that consistently worldwide and you keep adding more people into that, then those cultural norms will start to take hold in other places.
31:04 Scott Moore: So Facebook has a much greater responsibility than they may even realize at this point and that is they can actually be affecting culture way outside of Facebook. I mean they already are in lots of different ways but specifically in this idea of what is a protected class. What is free speech and who is deserving of speech and the kinds of ways you can talk about different groups of people and that’s a little frightening. But they need to step up to that.
31:34 Venessa Paech: I agree and I think that people in our position and people in general, everybody, everyone that uses platform, the media, people with a point of view, people who know things about stuff also have a responsibility to interrogate that. The way that we are in this conversation, respectfully, responsibly, but to interrogate that and, again, this is not a paint a target on Facebook. It just happens to be Facebook that’s in this position. I would saying the same, certainly, if it was any other company in the same situation.
32:00 Venessa Paech: It’s just that, as you said, they are, not to get a bit weird, but they’re kind of a one world government at this point. So if you’re going to be in that position then I think come it upon we the citizens of said one world government to ask some pointed questions about the way that, that government functions and to get pretty serious about defining our role in the citizenship of that government. I’m using the word government half tongue in cheek but I think it is about governance and I think that Facebook certainly doesn’t see itself in that way. It sees itself as the world’s most successful advertising company but it is functioning in that way so there’s a tension there already. Something I feel is going to come to a head in that regard. I don’t know how that’s going to play out but I agree with you, Scott, that it’s worrisome to look at that so I think that we need, the very least, we need to keep asking questions and trying to work together to propose solutions.
32:53 Patrick O’Keefe: It’s interesting that you say that Facebook could reflect back on everything else like discourse, how people treat one another, how people view people who are different from them. By how this cultural norm is already formed and continues to be formed on Facebook because it is so influential and everyone is on it so they take what they do on there and they apply it elsewhere. The bigger implication is face to face, out in the world, how we treat people on a global basis but looking at it as community builders, it is something we have to deal with, too, in our communities. As people get accustomed to acting a certain way on kind of the big platforms in social media right now, they get used to acting that way and they want to act that way everywhere and so the idea of building community on Facebook, for me, has always been about getting people to act like they aren’t on Facebook and I don’t necessarily want them to act like they’re on Facebook when they come to the community I manage either where there is sort of a me, me, me culture because it is your profile but also just the way you are allowed to use that me space and the things you’re allowed to say and Facebook’s done a lot of good. Like I don’t want to over exaggerate this. We all have our responsibility to manage our platforms and to have our own governance but Facebook’s influence in how people talk online, that often seeps into other online platforms as well.
34:04 Venessa Paech: It does. I can’t think of a community manager that I know who hasn’t, somewhere along the line, had this conversation with me around we’re really seeing the influence of Facebook now in the new membership that is coming into the community space or we’re trying to launch a community and gee, the way that we have to launch that community is quite different now and the proposition is quite different in a world where Facebook is the dominant social platform. I think that it’s a little risky because barriers to entry and creating a sense of membership criteria, all of these things that sort of matter and help define the community and help set it up for success in many respects, aren’t really the norm on Facebook so it does change how you interact and it therefore impacts the way you approach community management. The community management tactics you need to use and I guess there’s a question of whether we… Do you push back or do you acquiesce and what that might even mean to the culture of the communities that spring up and that we help create in the future.
35:02 Venessa Paech: Are they going to be as distinct as they once were or are they all going to have sort of a layer of Facebook in them, potentially.
35:10 Patrick O’Keefe: Scott, do you acquiesce?
35:11 Scott Moore: Never give up. Never say die.
35:15 Patrick O’Keefe: Well, this has been a really great conversation. Scott, Venessa, thank you so much for joining me for this unique episode of Community Signal.
35:24 Venessa Paech: It’s a great pleasure. I love hanging out with you guys and Facebook is definitely one of my favorite subjects.
35:29 Scott Moore: This has been a lot of fun. I really enjoyed this.
35:31 Patrick O’Keefe: If you’ve listened this far, I’d love to hear your feedback on this panel format via the contact page on communitysignal.com or on Twitter @communitysignal. We have been talking with Scott Moore and Venessa Paech. Venessa is the community manager for Australia Post, Australia’s postal services provider. Visit auspost.com.au. Connect with Venessa online at venessapaech.com and @venessapaech on Twitter. That’s V-E-N-E-S-S-A P-A-E-C-H. Scott is the online community manager for Digital Global Promise, whose mission is to accelerate innovation in education to improve opportunities to learn.
36:07 Patrick O’Keefe: Visit global.digitalpromise.org for more information. He’s the co-host of the Social Media Clarity podcast socialmediaclarity.net. You can find Scott on Twitter @scottmoore and on LinkedIn at linkedin.com/in/scottmoore. For the transcript from this episode plus highlights and links that we mentioned, please visit communitysignal.com. Community Signal is produced by Karn Broad and we’ll be back soon.
If you have any thoughts on this episode that you’d like to share, please leave me a comment, send me an email or a tweet. If you enjoy the show, we would be so grateful if you spread the word and supported Community Signal on Patreon.
Thank you for listening to Community Signal.