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Summaries of the Content Policy Research Initiative workshops in Dar es Salaam and Rome

The Content Policy Research Initiative (CPRI) was launched last year with the goal of enhancing engagement with the research community around how we develop and enforce our Community Standards. To date, we have awarded funding to support 30 independent research projects and have hosted eight workshops in several regions. The two most recent workshops took place in December 2019, in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, and Rome, Italy.

These workshops were opportunities to connect with researchers interested in how we deal with content that may violate our Community Standards in their own particular regional contexts. We discussed our policy development process; our data transparency efforts (for example, the Community Standards Enforcement Report); our approaches to hate speech and disinformation; ways to improve digital literacy; as well as work we have undertaken to effectively prioritize among types of high-severity content.

Both events were valuable opportunities for us to hear from researchers about their top interests and concerns related to policy and governance, as well as their suggestions for research investments. We are looking forward to building on these conversations and the previous six workshops (for readouts see DC and Paris, Mexico City and São Paulo, and Sydney and Auckland) to shape research engagements in the year ahead.

For a more detailed account of the two workshops, we have compiled a list of key questions and concerns from participants, as well as ideas for collaboration that arose at the workshops.

CPRI workshop in Dar es Salaam

At the CPRI workshop in Dar es Salaam, Facebook hosted 18 external researchers from around East Africa. The goals for this session were (a) to share more about our processes and research with this expert community to inform their work, and (b) to brainstorm about potential collaborations to fill gaps in existing research and programming.

Key themes of discussion

An important focus of these discussions is to better inform the research community about Facebook’s approach to content policies, and for external researchers to share how they think we can most effectively invest in independent and partnered research in this space.

Discussions at the Dar es Salaam workshop raised a few key themes:

  • Digital literacy. The overarching theme for our discussions was digital literacy. It undergirds a number of other content issues online and is not currently keeping pace with the rapid expansion of access to the internet and our products, leaving users more vulnerable to misinformation, disinformation, and incitements to violence. Participants expressed interest in a variety of educational initiatives that would reach vulnerable and underserved communities.
  • Risk analysis in East Africa. Participants noted that the African context is different from many others in which we operate. While there was consensus around prioritizing the company values we have articulated — including voice, authenticity, safety, privacy and dignity — they are uncertain whether we are striking the right balance in the region. Specifically, they were concerned that the norms and indicators we usually work from may not reflect the offline reality in East Africa due to (a) cultural reservations about reporting violating content, and (b) the inability to measure the reach of content that is passed from a small number of users to a much larger offline community.
  • Influence of diaspora communities. Another region-specific issue they raised was the role that diaspora communities, who may leverage social media to further their own agenda.

Our conversations in Dar es Salaam also raised a number of practical ideas for how to amplify the impact of the research we conduct and support in the near term. We discussed potential research collaborations in the region, including:

  • Research on how to incentivize good digital citizenship, and working with local organizations to execute follow-on public awareness campaigns.
  • Traditional research gifts to support work on mapping disinformation networks in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • The commissioning of youth-oriented materials and curriculum design about the Community Standards to help students better navigate digital spaces.
  • Support for higher education programming that would foster the kind of hybrid social science and technical expertise we could draw from in the region in future.

CPRI workshop in Rome

At the CPRI workshop in Rome, Facebook hosted 11 researchers from institutions chiefly located in Italy. This was a half-day workshop focused on sharing details about our approach to content policymaking, disinformation and dangerous individuals and organizations.

Key themes and collaboration ideas

In Rome, we had the opportunity to talk through questions, concerns, and research ideas around our approaches to Community Standards violations and governance. Our discussion covered:

  • Facebook’s governance role. There was a lot of interest in understanding the intersection of Facebook’s policies and local/national legislation, how we interpret our role in regulating speech and/or defining good and bad actors, examining areas where we might have bias (whether unconscious or intentional), and how to be a good partner to our users and reflect their preferences and needs in our products.
  • Long-term investments in users. Participants were eager to see us support work — whether research or programming — on education around navigating the digital space. They made suggestions such as implementing counter-speech programs that employ gamification to help people make safe and healthy online choices and determine how to deal with the types of negative content one might see. Just as in Dar es Salaam, participants were especially interested in how this work might apply to young users.
  • Market differences in Facebook’s policies. The participants noted that there are important cultural differences across markets that could affect the problems we are trying to solve and the way they manifest online. This came up with respect to hate speech, polarization, and the likelihood that offline harm could result from online content.
  • Social media and democracy. Several of the participants were interested in the intersection of social media and how people participate in — or disrupt — democratic processes. This includes looking at ways that social media may contribute to polarization, the effects that social media may have on the structural features of democracy, deepfakes, how laws are evolving to account for digital spaces, regulation, political ads, and online hate speech.

To learn more about CPRI workshops, funding opportunities, academic collaborations, and more, visit the CPRI webpage.

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