Fresh insider glare on Facebook actions in India

Two former employees accuse the social media giant of being indifferent to hate speech and colluding with ruling regimes

New Delhi, July 30 (KMS): Two former Facebook employees who had accused the company of indifference to hate speech in languages other than English, and of connivance with ruling regimes resulting in propagation of hate, have reiterated their condemnation of their ex-employer’s actions in India.

Speaking at a webinar about a human rights report published by Meta, Facebook’s holding firm, former FB data scientist Frances Haugen said: “Facebook’s report points (out that) they have an oversight board that people can appeal to, that they’re transparent about what they take down….

“But the reality is that they won’t give us even very basic data on what content-moderation systems exist in which languages, and (on) the performance of those systems.”

She alleged that most of the social media platform’s investments in content moderation involved only English content.

The summary of the Meta report regarding India does not list specific offences on or by Facebook. It says: “Meta faced criticism and potential reputational risks related to risks of hateful or discriminatory speech by end users.”

It then lists technological solutions.

Haugen had revealed to the US stock market regulator last September that the company went easy on hate speech, including anti-Muslim content in India from pages that supported the RSS.

Sophie Zhang, the other whistleblower and former Facebook employee, had released purported screenshots of internal communications last month that indicated that Facebook had ignored her recommendations for action against inauthentic accounts linked to BJP parliamentarian Vinod Sonkar in 2019 and 2020.

Meta has said that it “…fundamentally disagree(s) with Ms Zhang’s characterisation of our priorities and efforts to root out abuse on our platform”.

The company has described the allegations of protecting Sonkar as “completely wrong and misleading assertion”, and asserted that it applies its policies “uniformly without regard to anyone’s political positions or party affiliations”.

In response to Haugen’s revelations last year, Facebook had claimed that its investments in new technology to moderate content in 40 languages, including Hindi and Bengali, had led to the reduction of hate speech “by almost 50 per cent in the last three quarters and it’s now down to 0.05 per cent of all content viewed”.

Zhang said: “Facebook has effectively conducted a massive donation in kind to authoritarian governments by refusing to act and allowing their bad behaviour to continue.”

She added that those “who can regulate Facebook and force you to change the situation have no incentive to change (it). The only people who want to change the situation are those not in power, who cannot change it.

“…If Facebook leads to the degradation of democracy in India, that will hurt its relationships with the United States and American interests globally.”

Both Zhang and Haugen are US citizens. The webinar — billed a congressional briefing, which is a legitimate lobbying mechanism to influence public policy in the US — was hosted by Genocide Watch, World Without Genocide, Indian American Muslim Council, Hindus for Human Rights, International Christian Concern, Jubilee Campaign, 21Wilberforce, Dalit Solidarity Forum, New York State Council of Churches, Federation of Indian American Christian Organisations of North America, India Civil Watch International, Centre for Pluralism, International Commission for Dalit Rights, American Muslim Institution, Students Against Hindutva Ideology, International Society for Peace and Justice, The Humanism Project and the Association of Indian Muslims of America.

In 2020, Facebook’s India public policy head Ankhi Das had quit after The Wall Street Journal reported that she had opposed action against hate speech by BJP legislators.

In March this year, The Reporters Collective news website had analysed ad data to find that Facebook had charged the BJP less than other parties for political ads.

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