covid impact: Facebook hampers do-it-yourself mask efforts

SAN FRANCISCO: As health workers on the front lines of the coronavirus pandemic plead for personal protective equipment, volunteer efforts to create hand-sewn masks and deliver them to medical professionals have quickly sprung up across the internet. But those efforts were hampered by Facebook’s automated content moderation systems over the past week, according to sewing organisers who have used the social network to coordinate donation campaigns.

Facebook’s systems threatened to ban the organisers of hand-sewn masks from posting or commenting, they said, landing them in what is colloquially known as “Facebook Jail”. They said it also threatened to delete the groups. The issue has affected do-it-yourself mask-makers in states like Pennsylvania, Illinois and California, they said.

Facebook has long struggled to distinguish between innocuous and malicious content on its site. While the Silicon Valley giant has relied on automated systems to flag and remove posts that violate its terms of service, those systems can have trouble spotting nuance and can sometimes be overly aggressive or make mistakes in identifying what may need to be taken down.

In recent weeks, Facebook has worked to clamp down on potentially harmful coronavirus content. It has created teams to deal with the issue and has banned certain types of posts specifically related to the virus. At the top of its list were ads for masks, hand sanitiser and others looking to profit from the sale of safety equipment. Facebook banned advertising for such equipment last month, and has taken down nearly all posts related to the sale of masks across its Craigslistlike section, called Marketplace. But as the company ramped up efforts to crack down on scammers and other miscreants, volunteer coordinators may have been caught in the crossfire.

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