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Facebook suppresses report on hate speech probe in India

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According to the Wall Street Journal, which cited human rights groups, Facebook (now known as Meta) is stifling an independent report it commissioned to investigate hate speech on its platforms in India.

According to reports, Facebook’s human rights team, which is under intense scrutiny around the world, including in India, has “narrowed the draft report’s scope and are delaying a process that has already taken more than a year, the groups say”.

According to independent human rights organisations, they have provided extensive input to a US law firm that Facebook commissioned to conduct the report in mid-2020.

“The groups say they supplied hundreds of examples of inflammatory content and suggested ways Facebook could better police its services in India,” the report mentioned.

“They are trying to kill it,” reportedly said Ratik Asokan of India Civil Watch International.

Rights groups have chastised Facebook for failing to sanitise its platform in India.

The social network has over 300 users, and WhatsApp has over 400 million in India.

According to a Facebook spokesperson, the goal of a complex project like this is to be thorough rather than to meet an arbitrary deadline.

“We look forward to our independent assessor, Foley Hoag, completing their India assessment,” the spokesperson told the WSJ.

The WSJ reported last month that Facebook researchers have found that its products in India are full of “inflammatory content that one report linked to deadly religious riots, according to internal documents”.

After whistleblower Frances Haugen accused Facebook of failing to act on fear-mongering and hate content related to India due to a “lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers,” experts said the social media platform lacks a mechanism to deal with hate content in local or regional languages.

According to Arvind Gupta, social media expert and head of the Digital India Foundation, “Whether Facebook accepts it or not, it is a fact that it has no mechanism to deal with content in regional languages and that is why this kind of problem keeps arising.”

In the past, Facebook has been accused of failing to take action against hate content in India.

In January of this year, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology (I&T) summoned officials from Facebook and Twitter to testify about the misuse of social media and online news platforms. The committee also questioned Facebook’s India head, Ajit Mohan, about political bias on the social media platform.

The allegations of a Facebook bias against the BJP were reported in The Wall Street Journal in August 2020, with Ankhi Das, the platform’s then India Policy Head, opposing the idea of removing hate posts by BJP leaders, warning that doing so would jeopardise their “commercial interests.”

About the author

Brendan Byrne

While studying economics, Brendan found himself comfortably falling down the rabbit hole of restaurant work, ultimately opening a consulting business and working as a private wine buyer. On a whim, he moved to China, and in his first week following a triumphant pub quiz victory, he found himself bleeding on the floor based on his arrogance. The same man who put him there offered him a job lecturing for the University of Wales in various sister universities throughout the Middle Kingdom. While primarily lecturing in descriptive and comparative statistics, Brendan simultaneously earned an Msc in Banking and International Finance from the University of Wales-Bangor. He's presently doing something he hates, respecting French people. Well, two, his wife and her mother in the lovely town of Antigua, Guatemala.

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