Naughten told Facebook he was ‘appalled’ by Dispatches revelations

Minister for Communications met with tech giant and demanded ‘significant step change’

Inside Facebook: Secrets of the Social Network uncovers the policies of Facebook’s content review department, based in Dublin. Video: Channel 4


Minister for Communications Denis Naughten told Facebook he was “appalled” by an undercover report into the company especially because he had publicly defended the social media giant on several occasions.

Minutes of a meeting held between the Minister and the company show Mr Naughten demanded a “significant step change” from Facebook.

The meeting was held in New York just days after a Channel 4 Dispatches programme revealed a chaotic system of moderating harmful and illegal content on Facebook.

At the meeting, Mr Naughten told Facebook of his disgust that content flagged as inappropriate was not being taken down and was actually being used for training purposes.

The Minister told them: “This sort of content shouldn’t go up on the platform in the first instance, the system broke down on this occasion.”

He informed Facebook that retraining and reviews were not enough and that he needed “significant measures” to be taken on foot of the broadcast.

In response, the company told the Minister it now had 7,500 content reviewers but conceded it was “difficult to train” them all after doubling the size of their team in just 12 months.

An account of the meeting obtained under Freedom of Information legislation reported Facebook had said it made “no business sense” to allow inappropriate content as advertisers did not want to be associated with it.

Mr Naughten warned the company to “make sure \[there was] never a repeat of this” according to the minutes.

He said: “Colleagues across the EU are going to ask me about this. What significant changes are Facebook going to make so this never happens again?”

Reassure the public

He then asked Facebook how they would reassure the public and repeated the question of why content that was flagged as inappropriate was not acted upon.

In response, Facebook’s head of public policy Niamh Sweeney was reported to have told the Minister that this had not been “a moment of . . . greatness”.

However, Facebook said it was monitored by the EU Commission and got reviewed twice a year with 79 per cent of hate speech removed.

The company said it was increasingly relying on artificial intelligence [AI] to screen material.

Notes of what one senior Facebook official told Mr Naughten said: “AI is where we are going. Where you have humans, you have human error. We are going through all retraining and have changed all training materials.”

Another official told the Minister the company needed to “manage expectations” and said there were difficulties in monitoring hate speech because it can be so subjective.

In response, Mr Naughten said: “\[The] difficulty is, this was being taught to moderators. What extent – how long did this go on for?”

His special adviser Suzanne Coogan also asked: “Who decides what is acceptable content? Bullying towards citizens of Ireland – who decides …?”

Mr Naughten also said there needed to be a statement from Facebook.

Public hearings

Ms Sweeney said they would “turn up and play \[their] part” in any Oireachtas committee meetings or other such public hearings.

“I hear you loud and clear,” the minutes reported her to have said, saying Facebook were “not being silent on this”.

The final comment was made by the minister who said he had been a child advocate for many years and that he was “embarrassed about the reports” that he had received.

In a statement, the Department said it had held two meetings with Facebook, the first in New York and a second between officials and the company in Dublin later.

It said: “At the core of this debate is how the company operates the self-regulatory system of community standards which guides what content the company does and does not consider acceptable.

“The Channel 4 programme revealed several instances where content was clearly in breach of those standards, had been notified to the company by users, and yet was allowed to remain on the platform.

“The company has apologised for these lapses and has stated that it has put measures in place to ensure that similar lapses do not reoccur.”

In a response, Facebook confirmed that the notes were “a relatively fair description of the conversation” that had taken place at the Fitzpatrick Hotel.