How Facebook can be more responsible when it goes local

News: Facebook’s approach to not invest in content moderation in Indian languages should be taken seriously and further scrutinized.

Recently, in the backdrop of the leaks by whistleblower Francis Haugen, Facebook admitted that it has hate speech classifiers in only four Hindi, Bengali, Urdu, and Tamil out of India’s 22 scheduled languages. Moreover, its scale of investment towards screening fake, polarising, and hate-filled content in Indian languages on its platforms is too small.

Read about the entire issue in detail here

This, when there has been a mushrooming of online content as well as internet vernacularisation (to translate into everyday language) since the early 2010s.

In a country that has a long history of communal violence and ethnic tensions, Facebook needs to understand it can be misused to further amplify harmful content from partisan groups and vested interests.

What is Internet vernacularisation?

Internet vernacularisation refers to the increasing numbers of people accessing social media in their own languages.

It revolves around the twin aspects of linguistic diversification as well as the massification of the medium.

Why it is significant?

Its most important contribution is the vast amount of user-generated online content available in various Indian languages. This offers new opportunities to understand emerging digital cultures.

It has led to the increase of digital consumption and interactions, and the emergence of multilingual, non-English, and vernacular internet spheres.

The trend of internet vernacularisation in India is in line with the global trend of the decentralisation and de-Americanisation of the World Wide Web along with the rise of the global south in terms of the number of web users.

What are the potential downsides of internet vernacularisation?

Manipulation of public opinion and political polarisation by targeted propaganda. These attempts have already had dangerous social consequences, contributing to conflicts and killings.

Further, social media platforms have become competitive hotspots for gaining political power and control public opinion. Internet vernacularisation will exacerbate this issue.

What is the way forward?

Business Ethics: Social media companies should be guided by social values and invest in understanding the societies in which they operate.

Culture-specific protocols: Social media companies should not be allowed to operate in a language for which they do not have content moderators

Ensure consumer protection: Facebook and other social media companies must invest in building an infrastructure to ensure users are not exposed to harmful and fake content.

Ensure Accountability: Facebook needs to be held accountable for the dominant role it has come to play in controlling the flow and access to information.

Effective regulations: Appropriate regulations that help in checking the abuse of market power, misuse of users’ data, and privacy breaches from social media companies

Operational changes: While AI-based algorithms are faster in detecting harmful content, they are not good at understanding Indian languages. Facebook should hire and deploy human moderators directly, rather than outsourcing such jobs, to ensure more accountability from them.

Investing in local culture: Social media platforms should invest in understanding the societies in which they operate. This could help in developing strategies and policies that protect the public interest and safeguard users.

Source: This post is based on the article “How Facebook can be more responsible when it goes local” published in Indian Express on 13th Nov 2021.

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