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June 4, 2009

More Than a Full-time Job: Law Enforcement at Facebook

We typically don't write about companies as notorious as Facebook, but a recent Newsweek article about their operations and employees caught their attention.

Thinking sort of abstractly about Facebook and its employees, I would have expected that most Facebook employees are tech and programming guys & gals who work on maintaining and improving the existing product and doing some "R&D" work to develop innovative apps or features. I would have also supposed that they have some folks who focus on ad sales.

What I wouldn't have guessed is that nearly 18% (150 out of 850) of Facebook's employees are dedicated members of a Facebook police force or "the porn cops" whose job it is to keep corral users, fend off spammers, and generally keep Facebook a clean, safe, and well-regarded advertising space.

Many of these employees fall into either the:

"User Operations" team - which is charged with issuing judgment on flagged photos and content according to Facebook guidelines and policies - such as the nipple rule and the fully exposed butt rule. No small task for a site with 300M members - at the time of the article 438,848 photos were awaiting judgment.

Or the "Site Integrity" team, which actively searches (often under cover) for spammers and phishing attacks.

Others still actually work with members of real law enforcement agencies who are looking for case-related information (often missing kids and even murders).

I can't quite identify why this is so surprising to me.

Perhaps it is just staggering to think that with hundreds of millions of members that Facebook has to account for such small details as someone calling another person a "jerk" - not allowed by the way.

Or, while I accounted for all the maintenance that the technology would require, I hadn't considered all the maintenance that the human users would require.

And of course maybe this gargantuan policing aspect hadn't occurred to me because I just don't use Facebook enough to have had a photo deleted or content removed.

Or, instead it could be that I am used to reading stories of tech companies that seem so divorced from the actual nuanced activity and exchanges between users. A prime example is Markus Frind, CEO of Plenty of Fish, who employs a handful of people and works just 45 minutes a day yet has revenues of $10M.

And of course it could just be the thought that in total this department costs Facebook somewhere in the neighborhood of $7.5M to employ (starting jobs seem to be in the $50K range).

Regardless I wonder whether Mark Zuckerberg had anticipated from the beginning having to deploy so many resources not towards the management of the technology but the members themselves. Obviously a lot has been learned about the online advertising department since Facebook launched and, as this article insinuates, this police force is necessary for maintaining a strong advertising climate. And obviously $7.5M is very little compared to projected revenues of $500M for 2009.

But considering Facebook's small, private, and collegiate beginnings, I would guess that a department of 150, employed at the rate of $7.5M per year was an unforeseen destination.


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