During Mark Zuckerberg’s recent testimony in front of Congress, one message from the social media juggernaut kept being pushed: “Trust us.”
Americans — and especially conservatives — had nothing to worry about, Zuck insisted. The platform may have made some mistakes, but Facebook is committed to being balanced and censorship-free. At least that’s what the CEO claimed.
Now, reports are surfacing about Facebook’s screening process being so strict and anti-gun that even innocent posts are being blocked. Case in point: The platform is apparently now banning information about “automatic watches” because it thinks they’re assault weapons.
On the “WatchGang” wristwatch enthusiast group, users have run into bizarre censorship. They are reportedly unable to post completely legal watch classified listings, because someone at Facebook has marked them as weapons.
“I have posted and reposted 6 or 7 different sale posts,” watch enthusiast Howie Boyd explained to the group. “In the last few days none of them show up to the group.”
Boyd was trying to sell a vintage model watch that is popular with collectors. Like many high-end watches, the timepiece is called “automatic” because it doesn’t require hand winding or a battery, but is mechanically powered by wrist movement.
“(Facebook) told me that it was because my Orient King Diver was an automatic weapon,” Boyd said.
Maybe it’s the same algorithm that “accidentally” flagged conservative bloggers Diamond and Silk as “dangerous.” First black bloggers, now wrist watches! It’s a dangerous world.
Other users confirmed they were having the same problem. “It did it to me too,” said Kevin Brown of Facebook’s censoring. “Leave automatic out of the posting title and you should be fine.”
For the record, here is what an “automatic watch” looks like. This is what social media censors are apparently terrified could wreak mayhem and murder throughout America.
(Photo by Hydragyrum via Wikimedia commons)
On one hand, this is currently just an inconvenience and clearly not the end of the world. No platform is perfect, and it’s possible that Facebook is actively working to fix the problem.
On the other hand, there are some chilling implications to this “ban almost everything” approach.
Is a car with an “automatic transmission” being treated as a weapon by Facebook, too? After all, cars actually kill far more people than rifles, and it’s unlikely anyone has ever been murdered by a vintage wristwatch.
How many other topics and users are being censored without their knowledge? Since many of these “flags” are not immediately detectable until other users notice that posts are not appearing, there could be dozens or hundreds of everyday topics that are currently being banned by Facebook. We just don’t know.
Perhaps the most troubling realization, however, is that gatekeepers at Facebook seem to be incredibly out of touch with the real world.
Presumably somebody made the decision that an “automatic watch” is a weapon. What does this say about their knowledge — or lack thereof — about firearms, everyday objects like watches, or the world in general?
In other words, there are strong indications that the people hired by Facebook to police other people’s speech may be either clueless or biased.
Did they hire batches of millennials who have never seen an automatic watch? Considering the social media giant’s secrecy about its moderator staff, it’s difficult to know how far this general ignorance goes.
We’d love to give Facebook the benefit of the doubt, but there’s no getting around the fact these content flags are strange and borderline creepy.
The company could instill much more confidence in its platform and its even-handedness if it was more transparent about how content is blocked, and how this decision making process works. The age of social media is definitely strange.
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