On Facebook, the fiasco of moderation in Arabic

Par Martin Untersinger

Posted on October 25, 2021 at 1:00 p.m. – Updated on October 25, 2021 at 4:27 p.m.

Why has there been more content identified as violent and terrorists on Facebook, Instagram and Messenger during Ramadan in 2019 and 2020? Facebook employees who have spotted this statistical phenomenon in six predominantly Muslim countries, including three Arabic speakers, are intrigued. On their internal forum, they evoke a hypothesis, without being able to fully confirm it: the messages from the Koran posted during this period contain words, such as « martyr » Where « combat », that have been automatically associated by Facebook’s algorithms with violent or terrorist comments.

Read also Article reserved for our subscribers Facebook Files: outside the United States, the weaknesses of moderation in dozens of languages

Asked, Facebook says “Not to have proof of undue moderation linked to Ramadan”. This anecdote of a poorly calibrated system making erroneous decisions is however recounted in one of the many internal Facebook documents, recovered by Frances Haugen, a former employee, and transmitted by an American parliamentary source to several media, including The world. It vividly illustrates the shortcomings of the social network in terms of moderation of Arabic-language content and its inertia to put an end to it.

The question of dialects

The Arabic-speaking countries of North Africa and the Middle East are a major market for Facebook, with 220 million active users at the end of 2020 – a good half of the population of the area – making Arabic the third language on the social network. In the summer of 2020, it is even the area of ​​the world where users are the most active.

“With the size of our Arabic language user base and the potential severity of offline damage in virtually all Arab countries – all except Western Sahara are on the risk list and face serious problems. , such as terrorism and sex trafficking – put more resources into improving the systems [de modération] in Arabic is of the utmost importance ”, can we read in a document written at the end of 2020 by an employee, in a note on the limits of the use of artificial intelligence for moderation.

Extract from one of the anonymized documents sent to the American Congress in which the author points out the importance of improving moderation in the Arabic language.

The state of play drawn up by these documents is final and can be summed up in one sentence: Facebook is not able to have potentially illegal comments in Arabic examined by competent moderators – when they exist. The causes of this problem are multiple. Human, first: as surprising as it may seem for a multinational that has been present in Arab countries for years, Facebook did not have, at the end of 2020, enough moderators capable of understanding all the main Arabic dialects. nor the cultural and national contexts, necessarily different in this vast area stretching from Morocco to Iraq.

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On Facebook, the fiasco of moderation in Arabic