Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in his appearance before a House committee hearing on April 11.
Facebook Inc. FB -0.59% has spent more than a decade building an efficient machine to analyze and monetize the content on its platform. Now, after years of neglect, the social-media giant is throwing more resources at defending its platform from bad actors.
The annual budget for some of Facebook’s content-review teams has ballooned by hundreds of millions of dollars for 2018, according to people familiar with the figures. Much of the additional outlay goes to hiring thousands of new content moderators, they said. Facebook says it is hiring 10,000 people—including staffers and contractors—by the end of the year to work on safety and security issues including content review, roughly doubling the total in place this past fall.
Facebook also plucked two executives from its respected growth team to oversee its expansion of content-review operations and to build technical tools that help measure the prevalence of hate speech and track how well its moderators uphold its content rules, the company says. The company outlined some of those measures in a blog post Tuesday.
The moves reflect Facebook’s increased focus on stamping out graphic violence, hate speech, fake accounts and other types of objectionable posts that have marred the social-media giant’s image and drawn the ire of regulators world-wide in the past 18 months.
Facebook also is contending with a backlash over how it handles user data. The company is examining tens of thousands of apps that previously had access to its user data to determine if there were instances of misuse. On Monday, it said it had suspended 200 apps so far for suspicion of misusing data.
Intensifying scrutiny of content on Facebook has compelled top executives including Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg to re-evaluate the resources it has given to content review, which in the past have been a small fraction of those allocated to promoting new tools and products.
For 2016, Facebook allocated roughly $150 million to its community operations division, which oversees content moderators, according to people familiar with the figures. That year, in a single product initiative, Mr. Zuckerberg approved a budget of more than $100 million to pay publishers to put more live videos on Facebook, The Wall Street Journal previously reported.
After the 2016 U.S. presidential race, Facebook was criticized for failing to detect the manipulation of its platform. The live-video product also drew increasing scrutiny because people were using it to broadcast crimes and acts of violence. For 2017, Facebook increased the community operations team’s budget by almost 50% to $220 million, one person familiar with the figures said.
Facebook last year reported net income of $15.93 billion on $40.65 billion in revenue.
Community operations and the community-integrity team—which builds automated tools that let users flag problematic content and help content reviewers sift through user reports—last year requested a combined 2018 budget of $770 million, the person familiar with the figures said.
Mr. Zuckerberg said they weren’t asking for enough and pushed the teams to accelerate their growth plans, another person familiar with the situation said. He ultimately gave them more money than requested, the person said. The final amount couldn’t be learned.
Facebook executives say they are making up for lost time.
“As we built Facebook in the early years, this was something that frankly didn’t get enough attention,” said Guy Rosen, vice president of product management. Mr. Rosen, a longtime executive on Facebook’s growth team, took on oversight of the community-integrity team, previously called protect and care, after the 2016 election.
In the past few years, “everyone has come to realize that we really need to over-invest in this,” Mr. Rosen told reporters last week. “This is the top priority for the company.”
Facebook remains outgunned in many ways. Its services are offered in more than 100 languages, but its content review teams speak a little more than 50. That means problematic posts continue to thrive, especially in developing markets in Southeast Asia, where Facebook has limited language expertise.
Rapid change also has caused high turnover among Facebook content moderators in some cities, people familiar with the matter say.
A Facebook spokeswoman said it regularly surveys workers and has found that a number of factors affect retention rates in those operations.
For years, many Facebook employees didn’t consider working on content issues as prestigious as being part of the growth, news feed and advertising teams, current and former employees say. Executives, particularly on the business and finance side, viewed content review as a “pure cost center,” one person said.
Mr. Rosen’s new role was a sign that Facebook was starting to take content review seriously. Mr. Zuckerberg often turns to members of Facebook’s growth team to help crack tough problems that he sees as a priority, according to current and former employees.
Over the course of 2017, the community operations and community integrity teams started working more closely, with Mr. Rosen’s team leading the charge.
Some of Facebook’s additional spending is expected to go to hiring engineers and developing artificial-intelligence software that can automatically detect problematic content—an emerging technology that Mr. Zuckerberg repeatedly touted in his appearance before Congress last month. Facebook says it has successfully used A.I. software to uproot terror-related posts.
For many other kinds of content, including hate speech and determining whether an ad requires a political disclosure, Facebook still needs humans to do the work.
Many of those workers will be based out of Facebook’s current offices in Dublin, Ireland; Austin, Texas; and Menlo Park, Calif. But Facebook also is hiring in other U.S. cities in Florida and Texas, as well as overseas in places like Casablanca, Morocco, through staffing agencies and contractors, people familiar with the matter said.
The outside agencies that manage the workers measure several aspects of performance, including how quickly reviewers get to newly filed complaints and how closely they follow Facebook’s content rules. Those who fall short are warned, irritating some content reviewers who say Facebook’s performance expectations are constantly shifting.