Facebook Responds To Blocked Robert Scoble Comment

By David Cohen 

Tech blogger and Rackspace Startup Liaison Officer Robert Scoble got mixed up in a minor brouhaha with Facebook over the weekend regarding a comment he tried to leave on the Facebook page of Max Woolf, which the social network did not allow him to post.

To Facebook’s credit, the social network responded rapidly to Scoble’s concerns. While Scoble’s total of more than 240,000 followers on Facebook and his influence within the tech community certainly didn’t hurt, the quick action on a Saturday was impressive.

Here was Scoble’s Facebook post early Saturday that got the ball moving:

Wow, does Facebook do sentiment analysis on comments and keep you from posting negative comments?

I just tried posting a long comment to @Max Woolf’s comment area, and Facebook kept me from posting, showing me this error message.

Has anyone seen this before? This shows the kind of machine learning and content analysis that Facebook is doing to keep everything “happy” here. The comment was analysis about another tech blog. This is sort of scary, but also intriguing. I don’t know of any other social network that analyzes your content in real-time, looking for stuff that’s bad to post.

Anyone at Facebook want to talk about what the system is doing here and what kinds of things the algorithms are looking for?

Scoble posted later Saturday, after Facebook’s response:

I just talked with Facebook PR about my “comment censorship issue.” They say what actually happened is that my comment was classified as spam. He further said that this was a “false positive” because my comment was one that Facebook doesn’t want to block.

It turns out that my comment was blocked by Facebook’s spam-classification filters, and that it wasn’t blocked for what the comment said, but rather because of something unique to that message. They are looking more into it and will let me know more later, after they figure out what triggered it. Their thesis is that my comment triggered it for a few reasons:

  1. I’m subscribed to @max.woolf and am not a friend of his in the system. This means that the spam-classification system treats comments more strictly than if we were friends.
  2. My comment included three @ links. That probably is what triggered the spam classification system.
  3. There might have been other things about the comment that triggered the spam system.

The PR official I talked with told me that the spam-classification system has tons of algorithms that try to keep you from posting low-value comments, particularly to public accounts (er, people who have turned on subscriptions here on Facebook).

I actually appreciate that Facebook is trying to do something about comment quality. I had to recently change my privacy settings to only allow friends of friends to comment on my posts because I was getting so many poor comments on my posts (when I did that, the poor-quality posts instantly stopped).

The PR person also said that a team is looking into why this message got a false positive, and will be adjusting the algorithms to let messages like these get through the system.

Also, the error message made it sound like the message was blocked because of the content of the message, not because it looked spammy. They are looking into the wording of the error and will update that to make the error clearer as to what’s going on and why the spam classification system got kicked in.

More as I learn more.

Facebook also responded to a query on the issue by TechCrunch:

To protect the millions of people who connect and share on Facebook every day, we have automated systems that work in the background to maintain a trusted environment and protect our users from bad actors who often use links to spread spam and malware. These systems are so effective that most people who use Facebook will never encounter spam. They’re not perfect, though, and in rare instances, they make mistakes. This comment was mistakenly blocked as spammy, and we have already started to make adjustments to our classifier. We look forward to learning from rare cases such as these to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistake in the future.

Scoble raises a good point: While the initial fear of censorship raised alarms, we’d rather see Facebook trying to do something about spam and poor-quality comments, and suffer errors such as what happened this past weekend, than see the social network stand idly by and let the nonsense flow freely.

Readers: Have you ever had any of your comments blocked by Facebook?