The latest in a story of misunderstanding
Here’s how it works: a company creates an ad or creates a shop and sends it to Facebook for approval, an automated process. (If it’s a storefront, the products can also arrive through a feed, and everyone has to follow Facebook rules.) If the system indicates a potential violation, the ad or product will be returned to the company as non-compliant. However, the exact word or part of the picture that caused the problem is not identified. This means that it is up to the company to effectively guess what the problem is.
The company can then either challenge the ad / listing as it is, or change the image or wording it hopes will meet Facebook rules. In either case, the communication is sent back through the automated system where it can be verified by another automated system or an actual person.
According to Facebook, it has added thousands of reviewers in the past few years, but three million companies advertise on Facebook, most of which are small businesses. The Facebook spokeswoman did not identify what would result in an appeal being made to a human reviewer or whether there is a codified process by which this would happen. Often times, the small business owners feel trapped in an endless machine-controlled loop.
“The problem we keep running into is communication channels,” said Sinéad Burke, an inclusivity activist who consults with numerous brands and platforms, including Juniper. “Access has to mean more than just digital access. And we need to understand who is in the room when these systems are created. “
The Facebook spokeswoman said there were employees with disabilities across the company, including senior management, and that there was an accessibility team that worked across Facebook to embed accessibility into the product development process. While there is no question that the ad and store policy rules Facebook created were in part intended to protect their communities from false medical claims and counterfeit products, these rules, albeit inadvertently, block some of those communities from accessing Products made for you.
“This is one of the most typical problems we see,” said Tobias Matzner, Professor of Media, Algorithms and Society at the University of Paderborn in Germany. “Algorithms solve the problem of efficiency on a large scale” – by recognizing patterns and making assumptions – “but when they do, they do all sorts of other things, like hurting small businesses.”