"Facebook is operating a business, and they want to continue to have a successful business," she said, adding that "public pressure" explains why Facebook bans hate speech.
So how does Facebook define hate speech?
Audience members discovered there are no easy answers to question, either. Lambe led the group through a New York Times quiz based on a Facebook training document. The quiz asks whether various statements would be considered hate speech based on Facebook's criteria.
When asked whether this statement constituted hate speech – "Female sports reporters need to be hit in the head with hockey pucks" – most of the audience agreed that it was. Facebook, however, says it isn't. Gender is a protected category under Facebook's guidelines, but occupation is not.
At that, one member of the audience spoke out sardonically: "So this was written by software engineers?"
When asked how she defined hate speech, Lambe offered two measures: context and intent.
As an example of context, Lambe cited posters recently found on the UD campus declaring that "It's Okay to be White." By themselves, the words aren't particularly offensive, she said, but "the context of what's happening in our world make it more problematic."
Lambe mentioned a recent classroom conversation in which the intent for hate speech was lacking. A student asked, "Why don't we ever talk about black-on-black crime?" Lambe said that because of her previous interactions with the student, she knew that the student didn't intend his question to undermine the general problem of racism and police brutality. Instead, she said, he asked out of genuine curiosity.
Neither technical methods, such as artificial intelligence, nor human monitoring will stop all hateful posts, Lambe said. However, she described the efforts of several organizations, such as the Anti-Defamation League and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, to advocate for more transparency and new speech policies at social media companies through a campaign called #changetheterms.
The Front Page Café was sponsored by the Journalism Program and the departments of Communication and English. It was partially funded by a grant from the Delaware Humanities, a state program of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The Journalism Program thanks The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for its generous support and the Pulitzer Prizes for their partnership.
Front Page Cafés are always free and open to the public. If you'd like to be notified of future Journalism programs, send a note to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more
Facebook hate speech quiz, from The New York Times
Change the Terms, a campaign for new policies on hate speech on the internet
Transparency Reporting Toolkit: Content Takedown Reporting, a project to improve corporate best practices and transparency.
Section 230: Communications Decency Act, explained