Facebook Garden Hoe Mixup
Elizabeth Licata, moderator of the Facebook group, WNY Gardeners, poses for a photograph on July 8, 2021 in Buffalo, N.Y. Moderating a Facebook gardening group is not without challenges. Facebook’s algorithms sometimes flag the word “ hoe” as “violating community standards,” apparently referring to a different word, one without an “e” at the end that is nonetheless often misspelled as the garden tool. Licata said it has been futile trying to reach Facebook to correct the mistake.  (Elizabeth Licata via AP)
tech

Hoe no! Facebook snafu spells trouble for gardening group

14 Comments
By BARBARA ORTUTAY

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

And then there's the word “hoe.”

Facebook's algorithms sometimes flag this particular word as “violating community standards," apparently referring to a different word, one without an “e" at the end that is nonetheless often misspelled as the garden tool.

Normally, Facebook's automated systems will flag posts with offending material and delete them. But if a group's members — or worse, administrators — violate the rules too many times, the entire group can get shut down.

Elizabeth Licata, one of the group’s moderators, was worried about this. After all, the group, WNY Gardeners, has more than 7,500 members who use it to get gardening tips and advice. It's been 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 was not about to ban the word from the group, or try to delete each instance. When a group member commented “Push pull hoe!" on a post asking for “your most loved & indispensable weeding tool," Facebook sent a notification that said “We reviewed this comment and found it goes against our standards for harassment and bullying."

Facebook uses both human moderators and artificial intelligence to root out material that goes against its rules. In this case, a human likely would have known that a hoe in a gardening group is likely not an instance of harassment or bullying. But AI is not always good at context and the nuances of language.

It also misses a lot — users often complain that they report violent or abusive language and Facebook rules that it's not in violation of its community standards. Misinformation on vaccines and elections has been a long-running and well-documented problem for the social media company. On the flip side are groups like Licata's that get caught up in overly zealous algorithms.

“And so I contacted Facebook, which was useless. How do you do that?" she said. “You know, I said this is a gardening group, a hoe is gardening tool."

Licata said she never heard from a person and Facebook, and found navigating the social network's system of surveys and ways to try to set the record straight was futile.

Contacted by The Associated Press, a Facebook representative said in an email this week that the company found the group and corrected the mistaken enforcements. It also put an extra check in place, meaning that someone — an actual person — will check offending posts before the group is considered for deletion. The company would not say if other gardening groups had similar problems. (In January, Facebook mistakenly flagged the U.K. landmark of Plymouth Hoe as offensive, then apologized, according to The Guardian.)

“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,” Facebook said in a statement in response to Licata's complaints.

Then, something else came up. Licata received a notification that Facebook automatically disabled commenting on a post because of “possible violence, incitement, or hate in multiple comments."

The offending comments included “Kill them all. Drown them in soapy water,” and “Japanese beetles are jerks."

© Copyright 2021 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.

©2021 GPlusMedia Inc.

14 Comments
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I've reported clear hate speech, clear spam, and misinformation all to be told there was nothing wrong, I have up on reporting anything anymore, these companies don't care, they want people to argue because it keeps users on the platform.

4 ( +5 / -1 )

-Facebook's automated systems.

Facebook's crappy, tenth rate automated systems.

-We have plans to build out better customer support for our products.

We have plans to build out better customer support for our products before the end of the 21st century.

FTFY.

They are happy to ignore anyone who gets shafted by a false positive. They are impossible to contact. There is no customer service. They simply don't give a toss.

This is not just FB. Every other company that 'pivots to digital' will follow their lead.

My local bank branch closed. Ironically, the bank runs endless adverts on TV where they make a point of stating that 'they are there for their customers'.

Customer service is going the way of the Dodo.

6 ( +6 / -0 )

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

Why would there be a need for moderators for a gardening group?

Western New York Libs need someone to remind them to eat their vegetables?

-6 ( +1 / -7 )

Why would there be a need for moderators for a gardening group?

Western New York Libs need someone to remind them to eat their vegetables?

You kind of answered your own question there if you think about it.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

rainydayToday  02:34 pm JST

You kind of answered your own question there if you think about it.

Took me a few hours, but I'll go with the need to remind the libs to eat their vegetables. CNN reception is weak in those parts.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Took me a few hours, but I'll go with the need to remind the libs to eat their vegetables. CNN reception is weak in those parts.

Yup, that is the point right there. If you can't even participate in a discussion group about something as benign and apolitical as gardening without people trolling you for holding certain political views that they made up out of thin air then you can't run that group without a moderator.

4 ( +4 / -0 )

rainydayToday  05:31 pm JST

Yup, that is the point right there. If you can't even participate in a discussion group about something as benign and apolitical as gardening without people trolling you for holding certain political views that they made up out of thin air then you can't run that group without a moderator.

Oh, I didn't know benign jokes are prohibited.

Since I do not belong to a gardening group though, I still can't imagine the need for a moderator.

-3 ( +1 / -4 )

Oh, I didn't know benign jokes are prohibited.

Oh by all means go ahead and joke away. My point was just the irony of you asking why they need moderators at all, then trolling them with political talk in your very next sentence.

I frequent several message boards related to various non-controversial hobbies I have (including gardening, though not the one referenced in the article)and the moderators on all of them take a pretty strong “no politics allowed” approach because political talk is just poison to the discussions on them.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Facebook (and all the other tech companies) is only interested in the money, anything else is not income generating therefore ignored or cut to the bare minimum

0 ( +0 / -0 )

This issue has been around for years and keeps coming back ad nauseum, a little like those unfortunate Brits who live in the English town of Scunthorpe and often have a problem telling people where they live.

2 ( +2 / -0 )

rainydayJuly 21  07:26 pm JST

Oh by all means go ahead and joke away. My point was just the irony of you asking why they need moderators at all, then trolling them with political talk in your very next sentence. 

I frequent several message boards related to various non-controversial hobbies I have (including gardening, though not the one referenced in the article)and the moderators on all of them take a pretty strong “no politics allowed” approach because political talk is just poison to the discussions 

And my point was I was intentionally being ironic--it is a component of a joke. Regardless, people should eat their vegetables.

Harry_GattoJuly 21  11:20 pm JST

Dear Ms Moderator:

Convince me that this is on topic

I'll spell it out Harry. Hoe no! Facebook snafu **spells trouble for gardening group**

The article is about posting, and moderators who flag posts.

I posted. And if you read the article in detail you see things like this:

A hoe by any other name could be a rake, a harrow or a rototill

See? There is a sort of perverse humor in the article about posts which might inadvertently offend.

So then you get my post, which is intentionally ironic, and humorous, and is similarly innocuous and would normally go against the rules, i.e. from the article:

“We reviewed this comment and found it goes against our standards for harassment and bullying."

See? Humor, can be a little deep sometimes. Hahaha. Get it? Deep?

This last remark is also on topic because the article references a "hoe" which is a garden tool, and is used to dig . . . dah dah daaaaahh---a hole. Maybe even a deep hole.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

This issue has been around for years and keeps coming back ad nauseum, a little like those unfortunate Brits who live in the English town of Scunthorpe and often have a problem telling people where they live.

Imagine the Germans who live in the little town called Titz in North Rhine Westphalia, or the residents of the small French town of Pussy in the Savoie Department.

1 ( +1 / -0 )

Harry_GattoJuly 21  11:23 pm JST

This issue has been around for years and keeps coming back ad nauseum, a little like those unfortunate Brits who live in the English town of Scunthorpe and often have a problem telling people where they live.

Then there's the colloquialism issue. In the US venanicular, 'fiddle' refers to a violin while in the UK it means to rape/molest.

Desert TortoiseJuly 22  03:45 am JST

This issue has been around for years and keeps coming back ad nauseum, a little like those unfortunate Brits who live in the English town of Scunthorpe and often have a problem telling people where they live.

Imagine the Germans who live in the little town called Titz in North Rhine Westphalia, or the residents of the small French town of Pussy in the Savoie Department.

there is a town in Austria that had a name that is an obscene word in English and early this year they phonetically respelled it to 'Fuggen'.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Starpunk

Then there's the colloquialism issue. In the US vernacular, 'fiddle' refers to a violin while in the UK it means to rape/molest.

In British English "fiddle" means violin. But it also means to steal. To act dishonestly in order to get something for yourself, or to change something dishonestly, especially to your advantage:

Never knew any reference to rape/molests?

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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