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How Facebook handles speech in 'secret' groups

Guidelines against hate speech
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Guidelines against hate speech

Facebook enforces complex guidelines against hate speech, abuse and other categories when it comes to users' posts to their friends or to the public.

Here's a look at how the social network handles similarly offensive material when it's posted inside the more private corners of the service, in the online gatherings known as groups.

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What's a secret Facebook group
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What's a secret Facebook group

Facebook groups are exactly what they sound like collections of individual users who gather on the company's platform to discuss hobbies, tell jokes, educate or support one another, plan trips or whatever else strikes their fancy.

Joining a group typically requires the approval of a group administrator or an existing member.

Many such groups are public, meaning anyone can search them out, see a list of their members and browse people's posts without joining even if they're not on Facebook. Other groups are closed.

These boards show up in search, although only members can see posts and the names of other members. "Secret" groups, by contrast, aren't visible at all to outsiders; not even their names turn up in searches. Joining one requires being invited by a current member.

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Not all are nefarious
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Not all are nefarious

Plenty of secret groups aren't remotely nefarious.

For example, people discussing health matters or posting photos of their children to family members and friends often make such groups secret.

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Meaningful groups
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Meaningful groups

Facebook says about 400 million of its users are in what it considers "meaningful" groups, which it defines in a variety of ways, including how much time a person spends in them.

The company doesn't disclose how many of these groups are public, closed or secret.

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Different rules in secret group?
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Different rules in secret group?

Facebook says all groups, including secret ones, are subject to same community standards it applies to individual posts.

Among other things, those rules forbid bullying and harassment, hate speech, glorification of violence and "cruel and insensitive" posts that target "victims of serious physical or emotional harm."

Of course, it might be easier to get away with rule-breaking posts in secret groups, although only to the same extent that someone might get away with sharing objectionable posts only with like-minded friends.

While a racist or threatening post in a secret group may be less likely to be reported by other members, Facebook has a variety of tools, including artificial intelligence, that can detect some violations anyway.

AP
System is far from perfect
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System is far from perfect

The system is far from perfect, though.

For example, while Facebook uses AI to proactively find nudity, graphic violence and terrorist propaganda and a host of other things, its systems are not sophisticated enough yet to catch nuance, context and satire.

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