Facebook Doesn’t Protect Black Children, But They Did Add “Community” to Their Mission Statement, So…

There has been a lot of talk in the community industry about the Facebook Communities Summit, and how the company announced they had added the word “community” to their mission statement. I’ve seen a lot of “rah rah” from people saying how important this is for our work.

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

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Big Quotes

“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.

Related Links

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