Home Posts The Gardening Group Is Having A 'Hoe' Lotta Algorithm Issues With Facebook
The Gardening Group Is Having A 'Hoe' Lotta Algorithm Issues With Facebook

The Gardening Group Is Having A 'Hoe' Lotta Algorithm Issues With Facebook

There are complaints of wooly bugs, inclement weather, and novice members who insist on using dish detergent on their plants, so moderating a Facebook gardening group in western New York is not without challenges.

Then there's "hoe."

Facebook's algorithms occasionally flag this word as "violating community standards," implying that it refers to a different word, one without an "e" at the end but frequently misspelled as the garden tool.

Normally, Facebook's automated systems will flag and delete posts containing offensive material; however, if members of a group, or worse, administrators, violate the rules too frequently, the entire group may be closed down.

Elizabeth Licata, one of the group's moderators, was concerned about this because the group, WNY Gardeners, has over 7,500 members who use it for gardening tips and advice, and it was especially popular during the pandemic when many homebound people took up gardening for the first time.

A hoe by any other name could be a rake, a harrow, or a rototill. But Licata wasn't about to ban the word or try to delete every instance. When a group member commented "Push pull hoe!" on a post asking for "your most loved & indispensable weeding tool," Facebook sent a notification saying, "We reviewed this comment and found it goes against our standards for harassment and bullying."

In this case, a human moderator would have known that a hoe in a gardening group is unlikely to be an instance of harassment or bullying, but AI is not always good at context and nuances of language.

It also misses a lot — users frequently complain that they report violent or abusive language, and Facebook rules that it is not in violation of its community standards. Misinformation about vaccines and elections has been a long-running and well-documented problem for the social media company.

“So I contacted Facebook, which was useless,” she explained. “You know, I said this is a gardening group, and a hoe is a gardening tool.

Licata claimed she never heard from anyone on Facebook and discovered that navigating the social network's system of surveys and ways to try to clear the air was futile.

When contacted by The Associated Press, a Facebook representative said in an email this week that the company discovered the group and corrected the incorrect enforcements. It also added an extra check, which means that offending posts will be reviewed by someone — an actual person — before the group is considered for deletion.

In response to Licata's complaints, Facebook said in a statement, "We have plans to build out better customer support for our products and to provide the public with even more information about our policies and how we enforce them."

Then something else happened: Licata received a notification from Facebook that commenting on a post had been automatically disabled due to “possible violence, incitement, or hatred in multiple comments.”

“Kill them all, drown them in soapy water,” and “Japanese beetles are jerks” were among the insulting remarks.


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