Is Facebook blocking 'irrelevant or inappropriate' comments?

Is Facebook blocking 'irrelevant or inappropriate' comments?

Summary: Facebook has apparently started blocking comments it deems "irrelevant or inappropriate." The social networking appears to be analyzing comments before letting you post them.


Update - Facebook blames Scoble snafu on spam false positive

Technical evangelist Robert Scoble today wanted to respond to a Facebook post by Carnegie Mellon student Max Woolf about PandoDaily (here) but Facebook blocked him from posting his comment. The social networking giant's algorithms detected the comment as negative and gave the following error (pictured above):

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.

Scoble postulates that Facebook is performing real-time content analysis before it lets you post a comment. 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.

One would assume that this has something do with Facebook's Page moderation system. Here's the corresponding entry on the Facebook Help Center:

How can I proactively moderate content posted on my Page? You can add comma-separated keywords to the moderation blocklist in order to prevent them from appearing on your Page. When people include blacklisted keywords in a post or comment on your Page, the content will be automatically marked as spam.

To add keywords to the blacklist:

  1. Open your Page's admin panel
  2. Click Manage
  3. Select Edit Page
  4. From the Manage Permissions tab, enter the terms you want to block in the Moderation Blocklist field, separated by commas

To unmark a post as spam, locate it in your Page's activity log, click the icon and select Unmark as Spam. To unmark a comment as spam, locate the comment on your Page, move your cursor over it and click on the X that appears. You can then click the Unmark as Spam link.

There are two problems with this theory. First off, this is Woolf's Timeline profile, not a Facebook Page. Secondly, I posted Scoble's comment on Woolf's thread: here. Either Scoble is lying and the comment in question is something else (very unlikely) or Facebook's algorithm just had a serious glitch (very likely).

Bug or not, this is still a worrying development. The fact is that functionality is there: the above error message was coded for a reason. It's quite clear to me that the comment doesn't contain any profanity or even suggestive language. In fact, it's a lengthy comment that arguably contains a valuable opinion, as opposed to say, a few words pasted over and over.

I was asked to specifically point out, however that many ZDNet bloggers would love to see this message appear before some of our readers who troll the Talkback section. Personally, I don't really care.

You can join the discussion on Facebook and Google+.

In the meantime, I have contacted Facebook and will update you if I hear back.

Update - Facebook blames Scoble snafu on spam false positive

See also:

Topic: Social Enterprise

Emil Protalinski

About Emil Protalinski

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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  • No more Facebook comments?

    If Facebook blocks all irrelevant and inappropriate comments, Facebook's life will be short-lived. I hope they continue the practice until it no longer holds any fascination for people.
    • Just like ZDNet does

      a real-time content analysis. I've tried posting something that had no "bad words" or hyperlinks, yet a tiny cut and past of something relevant to the story. It would disappear imediately. I pulled out the name of a well known person in the article, and it posted.
      William Farrel
    • There might have been other things about the comment that triggered the spa

      If Facebook blocks all irrelevant and inappropriate comments
      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).
      Xiaopi Xiaoping
  • Facebook PR got back to me:

    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:

    1. I'm subscribed to @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.
  • Giving up safe harbor?

    Is Facebook giving up Safe Harbor under DCMA by doing this?
  • Blocked by Facebook

    I got the dreaded Facebook Warning after leaving the following comment on (old pal) Tony Maakie's post about chickens being found with caffeine in their feathers:

    "As someone who in a former life actually was a chicken, I'd like to strongly object to the arrogant assumption by pampered human beings with double vowels in their names that chickens don't appreciate coffee. We do! In fact, it's common knowledge that coffee beans were first plucked out of the soil by enterprising chickens -- long before humans even stopped swinging in trees."
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  • Ahh, the irony

    has it been brought to your attention that this article and the other one are blocked by facebook? when attempting to repost either article, I (and my friends, we have tried this on multiple accounts) get the following:

    You can't post this because it has a blocked link.
    The content you're trying to share includes a link that's been blocked for being spammy or unsafe:

    For more information, visit the Help Center. If you think you're seeing this by mistake, please let us know.

    ...which seems like any article that you wrote or rather, which uses your picture as the thumbnail seems to be blocked by facebook.