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Oct. 17, 2021, 7:21 p.m. EDT

Facebook is counting on AI to clean up its platform, but its own engineers have doubts

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Deepa Seetharaman, Jeff Horwitz, Justin Scheck

Facebook Inc. executives have long said that artificial intelligence would address the company’s chronic problems keeping what it deems hate speech and excessive violence as well as underage users off its platforms.

That future is farther away than those executives suggest, according  to internal documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal . Facebook’s AI can’t consistently identify first-person shooting videos, racist rants and even, in one notable episode that puzzled internal researchers for weeks, the difference between cockfighting and car crashes.

On hate speech, the documents show, Facebook /zigman2/quotes/205064656/composite FB -2.33% employees have estimated the company removes only a sliver of the posts that violate its rules—a low-single-digit percent, they say. When Facebook’s algorithms aren’t certain enough that content violates the rules to delete it, the platform shows that material to users less often—but the accounts that posted the material go unpunished.

The employees were analyzing Facebook’s success at enforcing its own rules on content that it spells out in detail internally and in public documents like its community standards.

The documents reviewed by the Journal also show that Facebook two years ago cut the time human reviewers focused on hate-speech complaints from users and made other tweaks that reduced the overall number of complaints. That made the company more dependent on AI enforcement of its rules and inflated the apparent success of the technology in its public statistics.

According to the documents, those responsible for keeping the platform free from content Facebook deems offensive or dangerous acknowledge that the company is nowhere close to being able to reliably screen it.

An expanded version of this report appears on WSJ.com.

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