SAN FRANCISCO – Since 2013, Matt Bors has made a living as an internet cartoonist. His website, The Nib, runs his cartoons and other contributors regularly skewing right-wing movements and conservatives with sarcastic comments.
A December animation targeted at the Proud Boys, a group of extremists right. With his tongue attached to his cheek, Mr. Bors named it “Boys will be boys” and described a recruiting where New Pride Boys are trained to be “boys. stubborn “and” shout out disparaging words against teenagers “while playing video games.
A few days later, Facebook sent Mr. Bors a message saying it had removed “Boys Will Be Boys” from his Facebook page for “supporting violence” and that he is on probation for violating its content policies. .
This isn’t the first time Facebook has fooled him. Last year, the company quickly removed another Nib cartoon – a sarcastic criticism of the pandemic response by former President Donald J. Trump, which aids in public masking – because of “spreading false information” about coronavirus. Instagram, which Facebook owns, removed one of his cartoons of satirical violence in 2019 because the photo-sharing app said it fosters violence.
What Mr. Bors encountered was the result of two opposing forces unfolding at Facebook. In recent years, the company has become more proactive in restricting certain types of political speech, restricting posts about fringe extremist groups, and calling for violence. In January, Facebook banned Mr. Trump from posting on his page entirely after he incited a mob to storm the Capitol of the United States.
At the same time, the misinformation researchers said, Facebook had trouble identifying the smoothest and most subtle political content: satire. Although satire and satire are common in everyday speech, the company’s artificial intelligence system – and even its executives – can have difficulty distinguishing between them. That is because such discourse relies on nuance, implication, exaggeration and parody to make an argument.
That means Facebook has sometimes misinterpreted the intentions of political cartoons, leading to a request to take it down. The company has admitted that some of the cartoons they’ve deleted – including Mr. ones. Bors – were deleted by mistake and have since restored them.
“If the social media companies will take on the ultimate responsibility of regulating incitation, intrigue and hate speech, then they will have to develop some knowledge of satire,” said Mr. Bors, 37 years old, said in an interview.
Emerson T. Brooking, a permanent member of the Atlantic Council that studies digital platforms, said Facebook “has no good answer to the sarcasm because the answer doesn’t exist”. The satire shows the limits of content censorship policy and could mean that a social media company needs more practice to define that type of speech, he added.
Many of the political cartoonists have comments taken down by Facebook as left-leaning, a sign that social media has at times cut down on free voices. Conservatives have previously accused Facebook and other internet platforms of suppressing rightist views.
In a statement, Facebook did not explain whether it had trouble uncovering the satire. Instead, the company says it makes room for satirical content – but only to a certain extent. Posts about hate groups and extreme content are only allowed if those posts condemn or neutrally discuss them, since the risk of real-world harm is too great.
Facebook’s struggles to censor content on its core social network, Instagram, Messenger and WhatsApp are well documented. After the Russians manipulated the platform ahead of the 2016 presidential election by spreading offensive posts, the company recruited thousands of third-party moderators to prevent a recurrence. It also develops complex algorithms for content refinement.
Facebook has also created a process so that only verified buyers can purchase political ads and establishes anti-hate speech policies to limit posts with Do content. Thai or extreme white skin.
Last year, Facebook said it stopped more than 2.2 million unverified political ad submissions and targeted US users. It also cracked down on the QAnon and Proud Boys conspiracy groups, removed misinformation about vaccines, and displayed warnings on more than 150 million pieces of content viewed in the United States that third-party reality checkers played. appear.
But the sarcasm goes on appearing as a blind spot. In 2019 and 2020, Facebook typically treats extremely misinformed websites that have used “sarcastic” statements to protect their presence on the platform, Brooking said. For example, The Babylon Bee, a site with far-right tendencies, regularly posts misinformation under the guise of satir.
“At one point, I suspect that Facebook was getting tired of the dance and adopting a more aggressive pose,” Brooking said.
The misinformation researchers said that political cartoons appeared in non-English speaking countries and contained socio-political humor and irony specific to some regions. certain.
That has caused disappointment among many political cartoonists. One is Ed Hall in northern Florida, whose independent work regularly appears in North American and European newspapers.
When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced in 2019 that he would ban two female congressmen – who criticize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians – from visiting the country, Mr. Hall painted a caricature showing a The sign was posted on barbed wire, in German, “Jews are not welcome.” He added a line of text to Mr. Netanyahu: “Hey Bibi, have you forgotten anything?”
Mr. Hall said his intention was to create a parallels between the way Mr. Netanyahu treated representatives of the United States and the Nazis. Facebook took down the animated picture shortly after it was posted, saying it violated its standards of hate speech.
“If algorithms that make these decisions are based solely on words that appear on the feed, then that’s not a catalyst for fair or measured decisions when it comes to freedom of speech, “Said Mr. Hall.
Adam Zyglis, a nationally collaborated political cartoonist for The Buffalo News, was also noticed by Facebook.
After the Capitol storm in January, Mr. Zyglis painted a caricature of Mr. Trump’s face on the body of a sow, with several Trump “supporters” portrayed as piglets. wear a MAGA hat and a Union flag. Mr. Zyglis said the caricature was a condemnation of how Mr. Trump fed his supporters violent speech and hateful messages.
Facebook deleted the cartoon because of inciting violence. Mr. Zyglis guessed it was because one of the flags in the comic included the phrase “Hang Mike Pence,” which Trump’s supporters chanted about the vice president during the riot. Another supportive piglet carrying a noose, an item, was also present at the event.
“Those of us who speak the truth with power are caught in the net to collect hate speech,” said Mr. Zyglis.
For Mr. Bors, living in Ontario, the problem with Facebook exists. While his main source of income is a paid member for The Nib and sells books on his personal page, he gets the majority of his traffic and new readership through Facebook and Instagram.
The takedown requests, which resulted in a “warning” to his Facebook page, could change that. If he had more strikes, his page could be deleted, which Mr. Bors said would cut his readership by 60%.
“Removing someone from social media can end their careers these days, so you need a process to differentiate inciting violence from the satire that these groups are doing,” he said. this agitation.
Mr. Bors said he also heard from the Prao Boys. A group of them recently held on the messaging chat app Telegram to report his series of critical cartoons to Facebook for breaching the site’s community standards, he said. to speak.
“You just woke up and found yourself in danger of being shut down because the white nationalists were triggered by your comics,” he said.
Mr Bors said Facebook sometimes recognized its bugs and corrected them after he filed an appeal. But the pass-by and the possibility of being kicked out of the site were bothersome and made him question his work, he said.
“Sometimes I think if a joke is worth it, or if it gets us banned,” he said. “The problem with that is, what are the boundaries of that kind of thinking? How will it affect my work in the long run? “.
Cade Metz Contribution reports.