Face it, machines can get it wrong too

Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg - content policing is "challenging"

Most publications* have some sort of editorial policy. This can cover anything from the mundane – should you cap up Prime Minister? – to what political stance you should take when covering news.

It is usually ingrained and been evolving since the birth of the title. And even then it was probably inherited. The Economist has fathered a stack of different titles that use its style guide.

Now a couple of things are happening. One, in content marketing terms, editorial guidelines need to be created. Two, in other areas (such as the networks) these guidelines are being policed by machines.

This came to mind with the recent Facebook kerfuffle over its ban on images showing Vietnamese girl Kim Phúc, among others, running away from a US napalm attack circa 1972.

There’s no point wasting words going over the response. It is covered here, as well as anywhere.

What is interesting is Facebook’s COO Sheryl Sandberg’s response at one of the company’s recent presentations to advertisers.

Admitting the job of policing content on the site was “challenging”, she added: “We are balancing free expression and a safe community.

“One of the theories out there is that we are controlling the news,” said Sandberg. “We’re not a media company; we don’t have an editorial team deciding what’s on the front page. Our algorithms determine that based on the connections you have.”

Going further, Sandberg added that responsibility for viewing posts had been taken away from humans – at the request of users – and handed to an algorithm. The algorithm spotted a naked girl with Facebook’s image-recognition software and acted accordingly.

Extreme examples

While this is an extreme example, something similar can happen when it comes to brands. Let’s face it, machines sometimes get it wrong. Ask anyone who’s worked on a medical magazine how hard it is to receive emails about viagra.

Likewise there might be an occasion when you need to show a picture of the human body. It could be for a medical or sports-related product. Well, with Facebook hogging such a major part of content distribution, you may well wonder how to get past this particular door.

As the song goes, the times they are a changin’. Brands are being told to emulate newspapers and magazines. Yet in many cases, not only has the latter’s editorial policy been created over a long period of time but its team has ultimate control over it.

So, as a company, you are dependent on a channel for distribution. Not only do you have to come up with your own editorial policy, you have to take into account that of an algorithm too.

*If they haven’t they should.


Face it, machines sometimes get it wrong
is part of Content24, the blog for London content marketing agency FirstWord.

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