How Facebook’s Algorithm that Determines Community Standards Is Racist, Homo & Transphobic, and Threatens American Security

Prior to their marriage and meteoric rise to social media superstars, Matthew Olshefski (better known as the shirtless violinist) and his husband Paul Castle,  began with focusing on chronicling their life after their first date in 2016 on Instagram.

According to HuffPo: Paul is an artist with a rare form of blindness, and Matthew is a classical violinist who survived a cult in his childhood years. Bonded by their love of the arts, and a shared understanding of “overcoming the odds”, not only did Matthew and Paul become social media influencers: They fell in love and got married. Along the way, their combined creative forces garnered 100,000 instagram followers, 150,000 TikTok followers, 200,000 Facebook followers, and over 15 million YouTube views.

As the COVID-19 pandemic shutdowns began in March they shifted to a podcast.

They quickly saw an explosion in likes and reach for the podcast. On Instagram alone they had amassed  33,000 followers.

So what happened next was devastating to the couple. What we know is that on December 19 they had more than 33,000 followers, so when they logged into the account on the morning of the 20 only to find that it had vanished.

The couple received a message informing them that the account ha been removed for violating Instagram’s terms of use. “Your account has been disabled for pretending to be someone else,” the message read.

Castle said: “We love bringing this kind of content to the world. But it’s more than just a bunch of pictures and posts; it’s a message of equality and representation in a world where homophobia still thrives.”

Olshefski added: “We want answers, but more importantly, we want to get back to what we were doing, being our most authentic selves.”

The reason Instagram has no recourse, is that like parent company Facebook, it’s built on a system that makes it nearly impossible to restore an account, have a fair hearing with human interaction, or even receive email communications to dispute the company’s seemingly arbitrary decisions to disable or delete an account.

There is a long history of the Instagram “systems” targeting LGBT people, based on the ability of online trolls to be able to manipulate those systems.

In May of 2017, Joe Putignano, the author of the bestseller Acrobaddict and a gay man who is also a Cirque du Soleil performing artist, model, and a Broadway performer wrote in the Huffington Post, “I edited the photograph Facebook’s algorithm determined offensive” which resulted in him being permanently banned. It was selfie that was nude and of course I know you can’t run that but” he edited within Facebook’s CMS as opposed to using a cropping app or say photoshop and than uploading. Unfortunately for us there’s a glitch and when you hit save or publish the image will sometimes revert.

“There’s something really wrong here,” he says.

My own experience was roughly equivalent  to that of  Putigano. Last  September #GAYNRD featured a trans guy, shirtless, jeans—very all American Rebel Without a Cause. He had originally posted the set of photos fully. naked on Twitter (which has no restrictions on content yet can be tailored to your personal settings).  I thought a lot about my creative decision and it nagged on me how exponentially more powerful it would be to run an image that would be desirable by your average cis-gendered gays. The sissies so proud of the lifelong social distance they have had to pussy. So I cropped the one and swapped it out for the cover, yet immediately after saving  saw that it had reverted — I was blocked for violating community standards for 30 days moments later. Later, apparently they scoured my history, I was warned that I had multiple “violations” and was at risk of losing my account.

RELATED: Meet the Smoking Hot Gay Trans Bro Gone Wild Turning Heads 😍🔥

The photo in question is above. He had never had  top surgery, had always had nominal breasts for a girl and a dedicated fitness regime had made his chest harder than most cis-guys he told me in a direct message on Twitter — a chest that Facebook’s algorithm had identified as an exposed female’s breast—get this—based on the size of his areoles.

areola: noun

Definition of areola : a small area between things or about something especially : a colored ring (as about the nipple, a vesicle, or a pustule)

Facebook’s algorithm has a well documented history of being compromised by the implicit biases of its coders and programmers. Those implicit biases and the early Facebook engineers who launched the social network appeared in this summer’s Netflix doc on Facebook, The Social Dilemma. “Never before,” the doc begins,  “have a handful of tech designers had such control over the way billions of us think, act, and live our lives.”

So much so that in the wake of the political unrest this year following the murder of George Floyd, unrest that Facebook itself stoked, CEO Mark Zuckerberg has repeatedly said its response in correcting these biases is of upmost importance, vital even, to the health and future of the company to “get it right” lest it lose the public’s trust.

64% of the people who joined extremist groups on Facebook did so because the algorithms steered them there. — Internal Facebook report, 2018

To be clear, what Zuckerberg was specifically talking about getting “right” was an algorithm that inconsistently punished use of the N-word in groups and comments on itssite — because it is incapable of understanding the nuanced and mercurial nature of language. Such nuances can transform a word over time to mean something remarkably removed and different [See: Faggots] nor is it capable of determining the difference in both the intent and meaning of the n-word when used in wildly different contexts— seeing as the word as equally offensive when appearing in academic ephemera or straight up white supremacist hate speech.

The Democracy Dilemma: The # of countries with political disinformation campaigns on social media doubled in the past 2 years. — New York Times, 2019

With the algorithm defacto  functioning as the company’s rapid response in both the capacity of a bot moderating a Reddit sub forum and playing the role of ombudsman for what is now the world’s largest media conglomerate, it even humorously given its passes on the n-word, found the use of the word “cracker” to be an equivalent racial epithet as the n-word amidst the uprisings. 

If only George Jefferson had lived to see such progress.

It’s punitive impact on the dissemination of LGBT news and entertainment is well documented yet homo and transphobia has become de rigueur  with LGBT content over and over again due to the very content it is charged with surveilling. 

The Mental Health Dilemma: A 5,000 person study found that higher social media use correlated with self-reported declines in mental and physical health and life satisfaction. — American Journal of Epidemiology, 2017

Facebook’s response to my insistence on an appeal was met with a boiler plate response that was also probably constructed by an algorithm: that dues to its sheer size, it could not hope to employ enough human beings to make these initial decisions over what violates its community standards especially in the grey areas of art and literature.

Yet they also insist,  as a matter of doing business,  that they did and do not possess the moral authority or alacrity to fact check the president during his tenure or the campaign. They insisted that it wasn’t their responsibility nor were they qualified to determine such things.  If that’s the case,  then why would they feel secure in determining the difference between art and so called pornography—something even the Supreme Court has has been traditionally laissez faire on.

In fact the Supreme Court has only gone to the mat with porn twice in our nation’s history. Which is astounding given our appetite for it.

Both cases are well remembered, first in 1964, when United States Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart set pen to paper to write his argument for his threshold test for obscenity in the case of Jacobellis v. Ohio.

In explaining why the material at issue in the case was not obscene under the Roth test, and therefore was protected speech that could not be censored, Stewart wrote: “I shall not today attempt further to define the kinds of material I understand to be embraced within that shorthand description [“hard-core pornography”], and perhaps I could never succeed in intelligibly doing so. But I know it when I see it, and the motion picture involved in this case is not that.

The other case was The People V. Larry Flynt.

So Zuckerberg’s lip service about addressing the very real structural and corporate instability that stems from relying on the algorithm as its primary one side fits all panacea to police and disseminate  not just speech and pictures, and political propaganda is falling on deaf ears. It sheer size and scale makes  early 20th century Soviet Union agit prop look like cave paintings in comparison.

A scale that completely undermines their claims of being incapable to fact check Trump.

And it appears to have also hemorrhaged what little political and good will capital it had.

Even after every major media outlet universally agreed that  daily tenacious and vigilant pursuit of the truth was crucial to the health of the body politic given the enmity and stochastic terror the president’s rhetoric amplifies via his lies and disinformation—indeed even the conservative think tank The Brookings Institute suggests it posed an existential crisis to the security, future, and well being of the United States.

Coca-Cola and Nike were only two of thousands of corporations that cut ties and/or are reconsidering their relationship with the company is going forward because of that decision.

The same lack of faculties it would follow, is why the  “self” monitoring system continued to allow Nazis and affiliated groups like the “Proud Boys” to occupy large swaths of its virtual real estate as recently as last month.

If finding alternate revenue to that generated by hate groups flummoxed leadership at the company so much that they couldn’t act quickly, thoroughly, and uniformly to clean up the negative publicity that is punishing the value and faith in its corporate integrity, then they stand exposed as weak, suggesting their position in the industry may be precarious. It should have been the catalyst for a call-to-action by every investor for complete transparency and to interrogate what doing business with Facebook will cost them in the future. 

A future, that every day reveals more and more they no longer control the narrative of.

Despite all these self inflicted headwounds, every day Facebook  continues to deliver 90% of the media content consumed by Americans—yet Zuckerberg still argues with a straight face that the nature of its business model itself precludes it from being considered a media company, let alone a monopoly.

I guess it’s a case of you say tomato, I say aureole. 

 

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