With more than 350 million photos per day being added to Facebook, the social network’s huge work load of content moderation will inevitably result in a few mistakes being made, but Bea Arthur’s breasts likely are not high on the list of potential reasons for discipline. Yet that’s exactly what happened to The Daily Beast.
Brian Ries, social media editor for The Daily Beast, offered the details behind a 24-hour ban Facebook imposed on Ries and 22 of his colleagues after the website posted a thumbnail of “Bea Arthur Naked,” a 1991 painting by John Currin. He wrote:
As the social media editor for The Daily Beast, I have posted countless potentially offensive stories on our Facebook page, from the sexual proclivities of porn stars to purported cannibalism in Syria. But not until we linked to a piece about the Golden Girl’s breasts did Facebook shut us down.
The error message was unequivocal: Our “account(s) could be permanently disabled if you continue to post things that violate our terms.”
Out of nowhere, I — along with 22 of my colleagues — was given a 24-hour ban, which affected not just our ability to post to the company’s Facebook page, but to our personal pages, too.
Our trip to the e-gulag started when we posted a link that contained a thumbnail of a controversial 1991 painting by John Currin called “Bea Arthur Naked.” It took readers to a Daily Beast story about the artwork, which was being auctioned at Christie’s on Wednesday and was expected to bring in between $1.8 million and $2.5 million. See? The breasts weren’t even real.
But somewhere, somehow, a reader, an employee, or a robot working for Facebook thought he (or she) was looking at a pair of the real, Golden deal. And so we were flagged, our account sent into the bowels of a social reportage machine (laid out in this infographic supplied to us by Facebook) that takes the offending post from a review before a “safety team” to an evaluation of the site’s community standards to a warning and, ultimately, a temporary suspension.
And yet our post wasn’t in violation of Facebook’s terms, since, as I said, they weren’t real breasts, but bona fide art.
I called to settle the matter. When I finally got a Facebook spokeswoman on the phone Wednesday afternoon, she conceded we had been unfairly convicted. “Our policy prohibits photos of actual nude people, not paintings or sculptures,” she told me. “Unfortunately, this image was erroneously removed under the same clause we use to prevent more graphic images from propagating on the site.”
Yet we had already paid for Facebook’s mistake. The spokesperson laid the blame on the company’s “dedicated user operations team,” and reviewers in “several offices around the globe,” who look at “millions of pieces of this content a day.”
“As you might expect,” she concluded, “occasionally, we make a mistake and block a piece of content we shouldn’t have.” She said Facebook has an appeals process in place for anyone who thinks they’ve been wrongly banned, and directed me here.
By 2 p.m., after several emails and a phone call, The Daily Beast was back in business. And there on our page, just where we’d left it on Tuesday, was a photo of Bea Arthur’s breasts.
Readers: Is there a better way for Facebook to moderate the immense amount of content processed by its servers on a daily basis?