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Why Did Facebook Deem a Tech Blogger's Comment 'Irrelevant' and Block It?

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"This comment seems irrelevant or inappropriate and can't be posted."

Over the weekend, a tech junkie tried to make a comment on Facebook and was prevented from doing so because his post was deemed "irrelevant" or "spam." While the issue has begun to be cleared up, it has revealed some interesting things about how Facebook cleans up comments for you.

First, here's some background. Robert Scoble, who some describe as a "tech evangelist" and "tech startup enthusiast," tried to post a comment on Friday on one of Max Woolf's Facebook posts but was prevented from doing so instantly. Here's what Scoble wrote on his Google+ page about the incident:

Looks like Facebook is doing content analysis in real time before it will let you post and is looking to keep the service "happy." I sure wonder now what kind of algorithms Facebook is running on content.

Has anyone ever seen anything like this before? I haven't, and I've posted tons of comments to Facebook.

My comment?

"I'm so glad I didn't start a media business. It's actually really tough to get new and interesting stories and to avoid falling into drama. People forget that Techcrunch was built step-by-step as a new publishing form was taking shape. PandoDaily doesn't have that advantage and, is, indeed, facing competition from social networks that is quite good indeed.

I no longer visit blogs. I watch Twitter, Google+, and Facebook, along with Hacker News, Techmeme, Quora. These are the new news sources.

Plus, Pando Daily actually doesn't have enough capital to compete head on with, say, D: All Things Digital or The Verge, both of which are expanding quickly and have ecosystems behind them."

Scoble was met with this error message (see image below).

Tech blogs began picking up on the incident, considering it a form of censorship. TechCrunch called it a "very strange enactment of any kind of Facebook policy."

At the same time, Emil Protalinski from ZDNet tried to post a replica of Scoble's comment and it ended up going through. Protalinski was provided this statement by Facebook:

“To protect the millions of people who connect and share on Facebook every day, we have automated systems that work in the background to maintain a trusted environment and protect our users from bad actors who often use links to spread spam and malware,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement. “These systems are so effective that most people who use Facebook will never encounter spam. They’re not perfect, though, and in rare instances they make mistakes. This comment was mistakenly blocked as spammy, and we have already started to make adjustments to our classifier. We look forward to learning from rare cases such as these to make sure we don’t repeat the same mistake in the future.”

Considering Scoble as a "pretty popular guy on the web," TechCrunch surmised this was some sort of glitch in Facebook's algorithmic system.

They were right. Scoble later updated his Google+ post to state he had been contacted by Facebook over the "comment censorship issue" and was told his comment was blogged as a "false positive:"

Turns out that my comment was blocked by Facebook's spam classification filters and that it wasn't blocked for what the comment said, but rather because of something unique to that message. They are looking more into it and will let me know more later, after they figure out what triggered it. Their thesis is that my comment triggered it for a few reasons:

1. I'm subscribed to @max.woolf /a> and am not a friend of his in the system. That means that the spam classification system treats comments more strictly than if we were friends.

2. My comment included three @ links. That probably is what triggered the spam classification system.

3. There might have been other things about the comment that triggered the spam system.

The PR official I talked with told me that the spam classification system has tons of algorithms that try to keep you from posting low-value comments, particularly to public accounts (er, people who have turned on subscriptions here on Facebook).

Scoble writes that he appreciates Facebook monitoring the quality of posts, citing how he recently changed his privacy to only allow "friends of friends" to post comments due to poor quality before.

[H/T PC World]

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