Facebook and new media peers need to work harder at tackling violent content after $3bn first quarter profit

The social network is hiring 3,000 people to police an outbreak of violence on Facebook Live, but critics say that’s not enough 

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The Independent Online

The Facebook police are coming. Sort of. 

The social network has just announced plans to hire 3,000 people in an attempt to fight an outbreak of violence via Facebook Live video streaming. 

Remember “happy slapping”, where kids would photograph acts of violence perpetrated on innocent victims on their smartphones?

What has been happening on Facebook is in many ways a dark development on the same theme. Assaults, yes, but also suicides, and murders. It’s dystopian fiction made horribly real. 

And this is the company that a couple of years ago got all hot under the collar about pics of breastfeeding mothers after someone forgot to blur out a nipple (the “community standards” have since been modified).

Surreal? Just a bit. 

It’s always struck me as off that people get outraged over a pic of a nipple, but horrific scenes of violence sometimes seem to elicit only a shrug. There’s something wrong about that, and it’s not just Facebook that is at fault. It seems to apply to film censors, sorry, classifiers, and more besides. 

But now we have the 3,000 to keep the wolves at bay, and they’re not just nipple police. They may even, we’re told, be able to jump in early, to stop crimes before they are committed, in the style of the Tom Cruise movie Minority Report

I’d actually be tempted to say “rather you than me” if someone asked me what I thought about applying for one of those jobs. The 3,000 new moderators will have to have strong stomachs. They’ll be exposed to an unpleasant truth: the dark side of human nature can be darker than anything they might have seen on film, and I’m including gorno in that. 

The question is whether there are enough of them. Facebook has just announced profits of $3.06bn (£2.4bn) in the first quarter of the year. That is a rise of 76 per cent over the same period last year. 

Wall Street fretted about a warning that the growth in ad revenues will slow, but really, that’s rather like Mr Cruise, or some other Hollywood star, complaining that the fifth bathroom in a new California super-home was painted just the wrong shade of pink. 

Facebook gobbles up more than 20 per cent of global mobile ad revenues, and is marching towards 2bn users, about one in four of the world’s population. The money it generates as a result of that is staggering.

Those critics who say it should do more? They’re right. Facebook is an absurdly profitable company, and its growth is nowhere near over. But in common with many of its Silicon Valley peers, it sometimes seems like it wants advertisers’ money, but is reluctant to take too much responsibility for the content that drives those ads. 

Perhaps those advertisers need to take a stand. They have the power to say no, as Google found when some firms (and the UK Government) pulled ads from YouTube after it emerged that they could have helped fund extremist content. 

It shouldn’t just be left to advertisers, however. Perhaps we all need to push harder, and demand better from all the new media titans of Silicon Valley.

They have gone beyond simply being businesses. They are social forces, deeply interwoven into the fabric of our lives. In many ways they enrich them. However, given the money they make out of us, we have a right to expect them to work harder to combat the horrors a minority of people are prepared to use their services to perpetrate and celebrate. Facebook’s 3,000 hires represent a start on that front, but only a start. The report card reads “must try harder”.