But cross the line—share a video of a Syrian soldier getting decapitated or a filtered, topless selfie—and you’ll meet the cops of the world’s premiere social networking site.
The junior analysts who make up the User Operations team are the human decision-makers behind the generally faceless Facebook machine. They are very real people who have been hired, oftentimes with only a few years of experience, to judge whether the videos and photos you post—or report—are potentially offensive, walking the line of propriety that would send the site spiralling into the irresponsible.
And last week, they were the ones who unwittingly found themselves in the spotlight after Facebook first revoked, then quickly reinstated, restrictions on “beheading videos” that depict gruesome footage of decapitations.
The back-and-forth caused an uproar that peaked when UK Prime Minister David Cameron called the move “irresponsible” and said Facebook “must explain their actions to worried parents.”
Facebook declined to comment for this story, but in a post on their site, the company tried to shed light on their policy. “When people share this type of graphic content, it is often to condemn it,” the company said, explaining when “beheading videos” will be allowed to stay on the site. It’s when the content is being shared “for sadistic pleasure or to celebrate violence” that Facebook decides to pull the plug. The company promised it would “take a more holistic look at the context surrounding a violent image or video, and will remove content that celebrates violence,” and, “consider whether the person posting the content is sharing it responsibly.”
(These aren’t the only questions they’ve pondered. The team has alsostruggled with the age-old question, “Is that art?!” And were forced to weigh in on breastfeeding—is it a natural part of life or an obscene image?)
Holistic look? Responsible sharing? That’s a complicated nut to crack.
And they can never let their guard down.
When one group signs off in Menlo Park, California, their colleagues in Hyderabad, an Indian city stretched along the banks of the Musi River, sign on. There is an office in Austin, Texas. Another in Dublin, Ireland.
To join the User Operations team, according to listings on the company’s career portal, Facebook wants applicants who have a passion for online safety issues, an ability to multi-task, and are ready to face ambiguous problems. Once hired, the employees are paid an average of $43,518 a year, according to 13 former staffers who reported their salary to Glassdoor, a website where anonymous current and former employees can review their companies.
The ideal amount of experience required to land a gig on the team ranges from 1-3 years. This makes it perfect for recent graduates with lofty values, worldly ideals, and an interest in “solving challenging problems and—most importantly—helping to prevent them,” to cite a common refrain in the listings.
Speaking to The Daily Beast earlier this year, a Facebook spokesperson described the team’s’ important role in the site’s daily operations, saying “Our dedicated User Operations Team reviews millions of pieces of this content a day to help keep Facebook safe for our nearly billion users.” She continued, “Our policies are enforced by a team of reviewers in several offices across the globe,” adding that they look at hundreds of thousands of reports every week.
It’s a challenging, complex system.
Detailing the process in a note posted last summer, “What Happens After You Click ‘Report’,” the company explained that the team is made up of four units focused on certain types of offenses and reports: safety, hate and harassment, access, and abusive content.
“When a person reports a piece of content, depending on the reason for their report, it will go to one of these teams,” the note says. “For example, if you are reporting content that you believe contains graphic violence, the Safety Team will review and assess the report.”
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