Facebook blames Scoble snafu on spam false positive

Summary:Facebook has explained why a comment made by Robert Scoble earlier today was blocked for being "irrelevant or inappropriate." The social networking giant is blaming it on a spam false positive.

Facebook just called to tell me the Robert Scoble comment that was blocked earlier today was most likely a false positive caused by an automatic spam filter. Facebook engineers are currently looking into what triggered it.

The spokesperson I talked to wasn't sure what caused the flagging, but may have been a combination of factors, such as the number of links, the length of the post, the number of comments on the post, and so on. None of these make sense to me, however, since I was able to post Scoble's exact comment myself, on the same post in question: here.

If you're just tuning in, make sure to read my earlier article from today: Is Facebook blocking 'irrelevant or inappropriate' comments? Essentially, it appears Facebook has started blocking comments it deems "irrelevant or inappropriate." What's actually happening is much more nuanced.

I was told this isn't exactly what's happening. Facebook's algorithms for comments made on Subscriber posts are apparently much pickier because anyone can reply to a public Facebook post. To be honest, I only find that slightly more comforting.

Here's the error Scoble received when trying to comment:

This comment seems irrelevant or inappropriate and can't be posted. To avoid having your comments blocked, please make sure they contribute to the post in a positive way.

Here's the comment in question:

I'm so glad I didn't start a media business. It's actually really tough to get new and interesting stories and to avoid falling into drama. People forget that Techcrunch was built step-by-step as a new publishing form was taking shape. PandoDaily doesn't have that advantage and, is, indeed, facing competition from social networks that is quite good indeed.

I no longer visit blogs. I watch Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, along with Hacker News, Techmeme, Quora. These are the new news sources.

Plus, Pando Daily actually doesn't have enough capital to compete head on with, say, D: All Things Digital or The Verge, both of which are expanding quickly and have ecosystems behind them.

I was promised an official statement from Facebook. I will be updating this post when I get it, which I was told would take up to an hour from when I got the call (at about 2:00 PM PST).

Update at 2:30 PM PST: That was quick.

"To protect the millions of people who connect and share on Facebook every day, we have automated systems that work in the background to maintain a trusted environment and protect our users from bad actors who often use links to spread spam and malware," a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. "These systems are so effective that most people who use Facebook will never encounter spam. They're not perfect, though, and in rare instances they make mistakes. This comment was mistakenly blocked as spammy, and we have already started to make adjustments to our classifier. We look forward to learning from rare cases such as these to make sure we don't repeat the same mistake in the future."

This doesn't explain why my copy of Scoble's comment went through. I've asked for further clarification.

Update at 2:35 PM PST: Facebook PR got in touch with Scoble as well, and he posted in the comments section of this article (link). I've added his post to this article for reference, as it clears up quite a bit of the confusion:

Facebook PR responds.

I just talked with Facebook PR about my "comment censorship issue." They say what actually happened is my comment was classified as spam. He further said that this was a "false positive" because my comment was one that Facebook doesn't want to block.

Turns out that my comment was blocked by Facebook's spam classification filters and that it wasn't blocked for what the comment said, but rather because of something unique to that message. They are looking more into it and will let me know more later, after they figure out what triggered it. Their thesis is that my comment triggered it for a few reasons.

It clears up quite a bit of the confusion surrounding the block:

1. I'm subscribed to @max.woolf https://www.facebook.com/max.woolf and am not a friend of his in the system. That means that the spam classification system treats comments more strictly than if we were friends.

2. My comment included three @ links. That probably is what triggered the spam classification system.

3. There might have been other things about the comment that triggered the spam system.

The PR official I talked with told me that the spam classification system has tons of algorithms that try to keep you from posting low-value comments, particularly to public accounts (er, people who have turned on subscriptions here on Facebook).

I actually appreciate that Facebook is trying to do something about comment quality. I had to recently change my privacy settings to only allow friends of friends to comment on my posts because I was getting so many poor comments on my posts (when I did that the poor quality posts instantly stopped).

The PR person also said that a team is looking into why this message got a false positive, and will be adjusting the algorithms to let messages like these get through the system.

Also, the error message made it sound like the message was blocked because of the content of the message, not because it looked spammy. They are looking into the wording of the error and will update that to make the error clearer as to what's going on and why the spam classification system got kicked in.

More as I learn more.

See also:

Topics: Social Enterprise

About

Emil is a freelance journalist writing for CNET and ZDNet. Over the years, he has covered the tech industry for multiple publications, including Ars Technica, Neowin, and TechSpot.

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