5 Questions On Facebook

Synopsis: New revelations underline how the Facebook company is sheltering hate speech in India.


In September 2021, Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee had submitted eight complaints to the US Securities and Exchange Commission. This is the regulatory body that exercises oversight over the capital markets and companies like Facebook Inc which are listed there.

What were the complaints alleged against Facebook?

Mismanagement: Haugen’s complaint alleges material misrepresentations by Facebook and that its management has misled shareholders.

Promotion of extremist content and hate speech: Facebook is deleting less than 5% of all the hate posted on its platform. The most shocking revelation is that Facebook’s algorithms themselves promote misinformation and other divisive, low-quality content while claiming to prioritise “meaningful social interactions”.

Childrens vulnerability:  Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) is harmful to children, especially teen girls who have said that the platform makes thoughts of suicide and self-harm as well as body image and eating issues worse.

Are the revelations significant in the Indian context?

As India is Facebook’s largest user base, the recent disclosures become significant for close to 34 crore users. The following issues have been revealed w.r.t India

Discriminatory budgetary allocation: Facebook devotes only 13% of its total budget on content moderation for India (along with the rest of the world), devoting 87% to the United States which has less than 10% of users.

Lack of Skilled professional: The internal documents note that Facebook lacks the ability for classifiers in widely used languages like Hindi and Bengali. Thereby, it lacks the ability to intelligently determine hate speech when made in these languages, even when it is notified by users.

Communal division being prompted by Facebook: The internal report Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study shows that Facebook was aware that anti-Muslim narratives and hate speech were prevalent on its platforms in India by certain political actors but it chose to do nothing due to political reasons.

What has been various governments’ response?

Till date, there has been no official comment by the Union government or any other state government.

There seems to be similar inaction by any legislative body, including by the standing committees on information technology and home affairs, as well as the committee on peace and harmony constituted by the Delhi government.

At present there are no public interest litigations (PILs) filed on these disclosures.

What steps should Facebook take?

The first point of correction must be accompanied by insulating its content moderation decisions from senior executives in roles of business development and policy teams that handle government relationships. The reason for this is due to the internal documents citing interference by Facebook India’s public policy team.

A final reform may be done by placing a human rights expert as an independent director on the board to change its corporate culture.

What should Govt of India do?

For the Indian government the first step should be to acknowledge the problem caused by social media rather than to wait out this media cycle. Such recognition should support credible processes that are transparent for the creation of institutions that enforce rights respecting regulations.

Source: This post is based on the following articles “5 Questions On Facebook “published in TOI on 28th Oct 2021.

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