‘Facebook did little to prevent anti-Muslim content in India’

News Report
Sunday, Oct 10, 2021

NEW YORK: A former Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, has claimed Facebook took little action to prevent the provocative anti-Muslim narratives from being promoted on their platform in India, foreign media reported.

The former product manager on Facebook's civic misinformation team, now its whistleblower Frances Haugen has cited internal company documents to explain how the company has approached the main issues and debates around social media in India over the past seven years.

She has said that “fear-mongering” and “dehumanising” content was being promoted by Facebook accounts associated with Indian nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which is seen as the ideological source of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Anti-Muslim narratives have targeted pro-Hindu communities with the intent of violence and incitement, Haugen said in the document.

She claimed that no action is taken against most of these contents as the company lacks “Hindi and Bengali classifiers”. Classifiers are algorithms that detect hate speech. The absence of them means much of this content is never flagged or actioned.

Facebook was well aware of those contents being promoted on its platform in India but “political considerations” prevented Facebook from taking real actions, Haugen claimed.

Haugen referred to internal records on hateful and provocative discourse about Muslims in India. There were a number of dehumanising posts comparing Muslims to “pigs” and “dogs” and blasphemous content, she quoted a company document as saying. Haugen’s lawyers cite internal company documents to reveal that India is designated as a ‘Tier-0’ country.

It means that the company will pay more attention to the country during important election cycles. Apart from India, only two other countries are classified as such: the US and Brazil.

Other countries receive no investment in terms of proactive monitoring and specific attention to curb misinformation during their electoral periods.

However, this is not as good news as it seems. Because the US receives 87 percent of the budget to curb misinformation on its platform, while the “rest of the world” receives just 13 percent, according to the document.

India, with over 530 million users, is the largest market in terms of users for Facebook. In contrast, the US has around 200 million users and gets a disproportionate 87 percent of the investment from its resources for the purpose of preventing misinformation.

Frances Haugen reportedly bases her complaints on thousands of documents that she secretly copied before leaving Facebook in May.

In response to the cases filed by Haugen, the Director of Policy Communications Facebook, Lena Pietsch, said that Facebook must balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need of keeping its platforms safe.

She noted that Facebook is making improvements to tackle the spread of fake news and harmful content, adding that to suggest Facebook encourages hateful content and does nothing about is just not true.