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Facebook Lacked Tools to Stop Hate Speech in India

Frances Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist revealed her identity as the whistleblower and told the US Congress and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that the social media giant Facebook ‘promotes global division and ethnic violence’, including in India.

Haugen was earlier a part of “civic integrity tram” which used to monitor election interference across the world. That Facebook team dissolved after the US 2020 presidential polls.

Frances Haugen

Adversarial Harmful Networks – India Case Study

A leaked internal document of Facebook known as “Adversarial Harmful Networks – India Case Study”, is cited in one of the SEC complaints sent by the non-profit legal organisation Whistleblower Aid on behalf of Haugen reads “RSS (Indian nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) Users, Groups, and Pages promote fear mongering, anti-Muslim narratives targeted pro-Hindu populations with V&I (violent and incendiary) intent…. There were a number of dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to ‘pigs’ and ‘dogs’ and misinformation (claiming that men have been urged to rape their female family members).”

“40% of Top VPV (View Port Views, or impressions) Civic Posters in West Bengal Were Fake/Inauthentic. The highest-VPV user to be assessed as inauthentic had more than 30M accrued in the L28 (last 28 days),” said Haugen in one of the complaints.

Lotus Mahal

Lotus Mahal, another document which got leaked was cited to suggest that the BJP inspired its members to have more than one or multiple Facebook accounts, which is not considered as a crime or an illegal act but is discouraged by social media platforms because such trend can lead to provoking content.

“BJP IT Cell worker (shared) coordinated messaging instructions to supporters with a copypasta campaign… targeting politically-sensitive tags.… 103 suspicious entities across IN & BD (India and Bangladesh).” Read the snippet of the complaint.

Such complaint highlights Facebook’s lack of regulations of “single user multiple accounts” or SUMA.

Facebook Lacked Tools

In spite of knowing that “RSS users, groups, and pages promote fear-mongering, anti-Muslim narratives”, Facebook the social media giant could not take any actions or flag this content, given its “lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers”, according to the whistleblower Frances Haugen.

According to Facebook, it added hate speech classifiers in Hindi starting 2020 and launched Bengali later this year in 2021. These classifiers for incitement and violence in Hindi and Bengali first came online in early 2021 this year.

“Over the years, we’ve invested significantly in technology that proactively detects hate speech even before people report it to us. We now use this technology to proactively detect violating content in Hindi and Bengali, alongside over 40 languages globally.”, said by a Facebook spokesperson.

Facebook claimed that from May 15, 2021, to August 31, 2021, it has “proactively removed” 8.77 lakh piece of hate speech content in India and has tripled the number of people working on safety and security issues to more than 40,000, including more than 15,000 dedicated content reviewers.

With a user base of 410 million for Facebook, 530 million and 210 million for WhatsApp and Instagram respectively, India is considered as one the biggest markets for Facebook and thus the company should take care of sentiments of the people and highlight or take actions against those who disrupt the environment with hate or provoking contents.