Image copyright Getty Images Image caption A large number of Facebook posts are taken down, but some re-surface days later – or they are never taken down in the first place
Facebook has been criticised for removing posts, often publicly.
But a leaked internal document appears to show how much a particular post is removed based on where you live.
It says posts about behaviour-based drug testing, voting fraud, prescription drugs and being an illegal immigrant are rarely removed.
And the less likely your Facebook post is to appear in your news feed, the more likely it is to be removed.
Access to the document by the technology news site The Intercept was obtained by The Guardian, which is putting it on its front page.
Facebook has declined to comment directly on the document.
‘New world order’
The document shows a sorting algorithm that aims to show people the posts that are generally the most likely to have been removed, and only then re-post.
It said the algorithm was developed as a means of reducing the amount of “friction” in Facebook’s news feed, which has been the main source of controversy.
For example, pages that are regularly linked to copyrighted material are less likely to appear in news feeds.
So, in terms of geographic averages, the algorithm shows that posts about postal workers’ pay, for example, are less likely to appear in your news feed if you live in a different part of the country than other people.
It also shows that posts in which a user “lies”, such as claiming they voted for Hillary Clinton, and those about medical disorders, are the least likely to be removed.
The document also provides an explanation of how the matching software, which Facebook uses to analyse its users’ activities and identify newsworthy issues, learns which posts to exclude.
If a post is flagged up for removal it will be prioritised for removal after “evaluation”, or reading. The programme examines what’s being said and when the post has been taken down.
It was claimed in the original report that the software is designed to purge posts for which users may be “justified” in “disputing”, while “downgrading” posts that could be “conveniently censored”.
Adam Mosseri, Facebook’s vice president of product management, has taken to Twitter to deny any connection between social media users’ posts and what appears in their news feeds.
He has also disputed the document was leaked.
“I can assure you that, even if it were leaked, it was a hoax,” he wrote.
“That does not, however, change the fact that the world’s largest social network needs to continue working hard on strengthening our community.”
He said the company was “working hard to improve our policies and enforcement to protect the wellbeing of our community” and “doing this in a manner that is transparent, explains our decisions, and respects the rights of individuals and groups”.
But critics say it is hard to see how Facebook can enforce its rules in the face of sometimes massive scale and complexity.
“Rather than improving Facebook’s decisions, the leaked document reveals the social network’s overarching bias to remove content that is politically inconvenient to its advertisers, users, and management,” says Kevin Childs, a professor of English and digital media at California State University at Fullerton.
“While we can’t yet know if the algorithm was not the real culprit in deleting Facebook posts from users, it could be seen as a measure of the company’s willingness to promote censorship over free speech.”
Many other social media companies have adopted a similar approach to Facebook, according to George Washington University professor Tim Wu.
He said there was an “explicit” association between a social media company’s moves to remove posts and how good an employee is at enforcing the policies.
“It’s sad – a very, very sad day when the champion of free speech in social media is the company that itself has enacted government censorship,” he said.
Critics have often complained of censorship on social media.
Worth noting @facebook is censored in some Arab countries. They censored the convo of one of the men abducted from D.C. — Mujeeb Ali (@MujeebAli) June 24, 2019
The FBI has confirmed it has investigated whether Facebook is a “platform for terrorist propaganda”.
It is also currently assessing whether the UK’s new data protection laws are being properly enforced.