After the year Mark Zuckerberg’s had, you’d think he’d struggle to appear so chipper.
“I’m proud of the progress we’ve made,” he said in an end-of-year note posted on his Facebook page for everyone to see. Acknowledging that the social network played its part in the spread of hate speech, election interference and misinformation, Zuckerberg’s note seemed more upbeat about his response to the hurricane of hurt caused by the company’s laissez-faire attitude to world affairs and less concerned about showing contrition and empathy for the harm Facebook caused in the past year — including its inability to keep its users’ data safe and, above all else, its failure to prevent its site from being used to incite ethnic violence and genocide.
Zuckerberg’s tone-deaf remarks read like 1,000 words of patting himself on the back.
But where the Facebook co-founder pledged to “focus on addressing some of the most important issues facing our community,” he conveniently ignored some of the most damaging, ongoing problems that the company has shown little desire to solve, opting instead for quick fixes or simply pretending they don’t exist.
“More than 30,000 people working on safety…” isn’t enough to police the platform
A decade ago, Facebook had just 12 people moderating its entire site — some 120 million users. Now, the company relies largely on an army of underpaid contractors spread out across the world to moderate millions of potentially rule-breaking posts on the site each week.
Zuckerberg said the company has this year increased those working on safety to “more than 30,000 people.” That’s on top of the 33,600 full-time employees that Facebook had as of the end of September. But that’s a massive task to police Facebook’s 2.27 billion monthly active users. Those 30,000 new safety contractors equates to about one moderator for every 75,660 users.
Facebook’s contractors have long complained about long hours and low pay, and that’s not even taking into account the thousands of gruesome posts — from beheadings to child abuse and exploitation — they have to review each day. Turnover is understandably high. No other social network in the world has as many users as Facebook, and it’s impossible to know what the “right number” of moderators is.
But the numbers don’t add up. Facebook’s army of 30,000 safety staffers isn’t enough to combat the onslaught of vitriol and violence, let alone against an advanced adversary like the nation-state actors that it’s constantly blaming.