A training document used by Facebook’s content moderators raises questions about whether the social network underreports images of potential child sexual abuse. The New York Times reportsThe document reportedly instructs moderators to “err on the side of an adult” when rating images, a practice criticized by moderators but defended by company executives.
It is controversial how Facebook moderators should deal with pictures where the age of the subject is not immediately apparent. This decision can have significant repercussions as suspected child abuse images are reported to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (NCMEC), which passes the images on to law enforcement. On the other hand, images depicting adults can be removed from Facebook if they violate the rules, but are not reported to external authorities.
but The NYT points out that there is no reliable way to determine age from a photograph. Moderators are reportedly trained to use a method more than 50 years old to identify “the progressive stages of puberty,” but the method “was not designed to determine a person’s age.” And since Facebook policies instruct moderators to assume photos they are unsure about are adults, moderators suspect many images of children could slip through.
This is further complicated by the fact that Facebook’s contract moderators, who work for outside firms and don’t receive the same benefits as full-time employees, may only have seconds to make a decision and may be penalized if they get it wrong make call.
Facebook, which reports more child sexual abuse material to NCMEC than any other company, says the err on the adult side is to protect user privacy and avoid false reporting, which could hamper authorities’ ability to to investigate actual cases of abuse. The company’s security chief, Antigone Davis, told the newspaper that making false reports could also be a legal liability for them. In particular, not every company shares Facebook’s philosophy on this topic. Apple, Snap, and TikTok are all reportedly taking “the opposite approach,” reporting images when unsure of an age.
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