In a recent blogpost, Amazon called on Facebook and similar platforms to work more diligently to shut down the numerous trolls who swamp Amazon’s site with fake product reviews:
In the first three months of 2020, we reported more than 300 groups to social media companies, who then took a median time of 45 days to shut down those groups from using their service to perpetrate abuse. In the first three months of 2021, we reported more than 1,000 such groups, with social media services taking a median time of five days to take them down. While we appreciate that some social media companies have become much faster at responding, to address this problem at scale, it is imperative for social media companies to invest adequately in proactive controls to detect and enforce fake reviews ahead of our reporting the issue to them.
For years, we too have been
kicking and screaming politely requesting that Online Service Providers actually put some effort into stemming illegal activity by their users.
Just as Amazon does with fake product reviews, copyright owners constantly report digital piracy by various organized groups to Facebook. Nevertheless, the number of infractions goes up, not down, every year – and while independent creatives watch their earnings fade away, Facebook sits around doing nothing, enjoying the stratospheric climb of its stock price.
Our piracy problem with Facebook is just like Amazon’s problem with fake product reviews. The difference is that Jeff Bezos’s livelihood will be just fine – it’s a different story for the millions of creatives who are suffering at the hands of the largest social media company in the world.
Facebook Pretends to Care
Facebook barely pretends to care about its harmful impacts. We have had our doubts. And you can readily see those doubts confirmed if you read the growing body of whistleblower testimony, assess the company’s PR campaigns, or click through the most recent report (if they haven’t buried it yet) – from Facebook’s deceptively named Transparency Center.
In its Intellectual Property transparency report for the second half of 2020, Facebook reassures us that stealing intellectual property is prohibited by its Terms of Service. Surely that’s effective.
Oh, wait – Zuckerberg admitted to Congress in 2018 that “a lot of people probably just accept terms of service without taking the time to read through it.” Honestly, it’s exhausting.
Facebook also says that it will promptly remove stolen material upon receiving a valid complaint from the copyright holder. That sounds responsible – but, of course, that’s nothing more than what Facebook has always been required to do by an outdated and inadequate law, the Digital Millennium Copyright Act.
Section 512 of that law contains a so-called “takedown” requirement. Court interpretations of this section, shaped by the advocacy of Facebook and other Big Tech proponents, has left creatives with nearly 100 percent of the burden of enforcing their copyrights online. Meanwhile, platforms like Facebook profit from pirated content by running ads with it.
Remember that 87% of businesses in film and television are small enterprises, employing fewer than 10 people. Do any of us really think an indie filmmaker or small studio has the time and resources required to patrol the internet, tracking down violations of their property rights and finding someone to make it stop?
Hang on – Roy Kent can answer that for us.
Independent creatives and small businesses are busy trying to make ends meet as they entertain and inspire audiences with original content. It’s an uphill battle, since digital piracy siphons more than $29.2 billion from the U.S. economy each year, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
As Facebook admits in its very own transparency report, it received almost 100,000 reports of copyright infringement in December 2020 alone. Let’s do some quick math. Assume (very conservatively) that to find an act of infringement, figure out who is responsible for taking it down, and filing a takedown request, takes 5 minutes per violation. That’s over 8,300 hours a month that creatives need to dedicate to chase after piracy – on Facebook alone! That doesn’t just harm creatives – that harms everyone. And, of course, that only accounts for the violations the creatives were able to find, which is not all the violations that are out there.
Facebook says it does take preventative measures. They report that between July–December 2020, they removed 1.5 to 2 million accounts, posts, or other items each month due to intellectual property concerns, in advance of receiving any complaints. According to Facebook, that represents 75–80% of the content removed for copyright violations.
Pretty good, right? Well, not really. Because it leaves you to guess just how much infringing content remains up – a metric that Facebook doesn’t want anyone to see. Regardless of what the transparency report implies, the amount of content removed due to takedown notices plus the amount removed proactively by Facebook does not come close to the total amount of pirated content on the platform.
In the spirit of “transparency,” let’s make something clear: the enormous and ever-increasing burden of submitting takedown notices is more than content creators can bear. Again. Honestly.
Even by Facebook’s own count, a lot is slipping through the cracks – and quickly. These “proactive enforcement” efforts – catching only 75–80% of piracy according to a misleading underestimate – don’t impress us much. We expect better from a company that managed to bring in almost $28.6 billion in ad revenue between April–June 2021.
“Transparency” reports are just another obfuscating ploy, part of Facebook’s corporate strategy in the wake of Cambridge Analytica and other scandals.
If Facebook actually gave a flying [REDACTED], it would take serious responsibility for its business practices now.
It’s daunting to go up against a trillion-dollar company. But ironically, Facebook has actually accomplished its stated mission to connect people – but they’ve connected in the fight against Facebook abuse. Fortunately, we’ve never been so united, from tech workers to independent creatives, from federal legislators to protesters like our current heroes, the Raging Grannies.
Facebook should commit to cleaning up their platform and giving more creatives effective content protection tools. Then, instead of touting “transparency,” they could tout real results.