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Facebook is building a customer-service group to field content complaints

Aug. 25, 2022 Updated Thu., Aug. 25, 2022 at 5:52 p.m.

Mark Zuckerberg speaks Oct. 23, 2019, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C.  (Bloomberg )
Mark Zuckerberg speaks Oct. 23, 2019, during a House Financial Services Committee hearing in Washington, D.C. (Bloomberg )
By Kurt Wagner Bloomberg

Facebook parent company Meta Platforms Inc. is building a customer-service division to help users of its social networks who have had posts or accounts removed unexpectedly.

The effort is in the early stages, and has taken on a higher priority thanks to feedback Meta has gotten from the Oversight Board, the independent body set up in 2020 by the company to review some of its decisions on questionable or problematic content.

The board has received more than a million appeals from users, many of them related to account support.

“How do we provide care and customer service and responsiveness to people about why their content has been taken down or why their accounts are taken down?” said Brent Harris, Meta’s vice president of governance, who confirmed that improving Meta’s customer service is something they are “spending a bunch of time on.”

He didn’t provide details on how the group would interact with users.

Meta, with more than 3 billion global users across social-media apps including Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger, is notoriously poor at customer service.

The issue has intensified as the company relies more heavily on artificial intelligence to make content moderation decisions, which sometimes leads to the mistaken automated removal of users’ accounts or posts with little explanation.

Both regular users and small business advertisers often complain that there is almost no recourse for a locked, suspended or hacked account.

The company offers automated tools to try to recover an account, but it’s difficult to make contact with a person who actually works at Meta.

Users instead sometimes resort to messaging employees or journalists directly asking for help.

The Oversight Board has made more than 100 formal recommendations to Meta since its inception, including suggested policy changes and requests to translate the company’s rules into more languages.

Improving customer service wasn’t a formal recommendation, but the Oversight Board has helped illuminate the issue as part of the broader feedback it gives to Meta, Harris said.

Of the official recommendations the board has issued, Meta has implemented or considered 73% of them, according to a quarterly report issued by the company Thursday.

The report also included some new details about Meta’s newsworthiness exemption.

The company has long allowed some posts that have news value, such as those from world leaders, to remain on the service even if they violate the rules – a policy that Twitter Inc. also holds-but has never reported how often that policy is used.

Meta said it invoked the newsworthiness exemption 68 times in the 12 months that ended June 30, and 13 of those times were “issued for content posted by politicians.”

Meta didn’t include the full list of posts that received the exemption, but a spokesman said none of the 13 political exemptions were from U.S. politicians.

The Oversight Board, while not part of Meta, is conceived and funded by the company.

Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg wanted an external body with authority to check Meta’s work, and reverse its decisions if necessary.Meta on Thursday also published a quarterly report on its content enforcement decisions.

The company removed nearly 500 accounts, pages and groups linked to the far-right extremist group the Proud Boys last quarter, according to Monika Bickert, Meta’s vice president for content policy.

Meta had decided to ban the group in 2018, but content has continued to crop up; Bickert says Meta has removed roughly 750 assets linked to the group in the past year.

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