Facebook's Inability To Curb Hate Speech Is Disproportionately Harming India's Muslims: Report

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Facebook’s Inability To Curb Hate Speech Is Disproportionately Harming India’s Muslims: Report

Facebook’s inability to curb hate speech is disproportionately harming India’s Muslim minorities and at times spilling over into real-world violence, according to a report, which draws worrying comparisons between the situation in India and the platform’s failures in Myanmar, where it was used to fuel violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority.

The Vice News in a report said, “In fact, despite Facebook’s efforts, it’s barely made a dent in that department: 93 percent of all hate speech posts reported to Facebook by monitoring group Equality Labs remain on the platform — including content advocating violence, bullying and use of offensive slurs.”

“Facebook has failed its caste, gender, and religious minority users,” Thenmozhi Soundararajan, one of the authors of the report, said. ”By its own community standards, it has not fulfilled the bare minimum required to ensure that hate speech and disinformation does not become normalized in the platform.”

“Facebook is complicit with the extremism that is pulling apart Indian society and it must act before it is too late,” Soundararajan said.

The Vice News cited an example where the Facebook, in February, launched an ad campaign in the Indian state of Maharashtra that was designed to inform users about resources available to protect against harassment and hate speech.

But the Facebook portrayed a troll as a member of the lower Dalit caste, an oversight that essentially reinforced ugly stereotypes against the very group that is most discriminated against on its platform. Hundreds of users reported the ad as hate speech, and within a day the ad was removed. But the incident symbolised Facebook’s mounting failures in its biggest market, particularly when it comes to the spread of harassment and hate speech.

According to the report, Islamophobic content was the biggest source of hate speech on Facebook in India, accounting for 37 per cent of the content reported by Equality Labs.

Moreover, 43 per cent of the hate speech Facebook initially removed was restored within 90 days, and 100 per cent of these restored posts were Islamophobic in nature.

The researchers pinned the blame squarely on Facebook, which it described as ill-equipped and unprepared to deal with the torrent of hate speech on its platform. With almost 300 million active accounts and potentially hundreds of millions more still to join, India is Facebook’s biggest market, and it’s most challenging, with unique obstacles to overcome.

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“Indian religious and socio-political contexts are complex enough to require their own review and co-design process to adequately address safety.” the report said.

But instead of tailoring a solution to cope with India’s specific challenges, the company continues to rely on community standards and practices designed for western markets, Equality Labs says, that don’t track with India’s challenges.

The rise of Islamophobic hate speech on Facebook has coincided with a rise in real-world violence against Muslims in India, which has been fomented in part by increasingly divisive national politics. According to a study, Muslims were the victims of 59 per cent of cases of religiously motivated violence — even though they make up less than 15 per cent of the population.

“As early as 2013 Facebook knew the content on its platform could lead to large scale communal riots,” Soundararajan said. She points to Facebook’s role in helping to instigate the Muzaffarnagar riots which led to left more than 50 deaths and over 75,000 people displaced from their homes. “Many say these riots were sparked by videos which were spread in part on Facebook.”

“Facebook staff lacks the cultural competency needed to recognize, respect, and serve caste, religious, gender, and queer minorities,” the report says. “The hiring of Indian staff alone does not ensure cultural competence across India’s multitude of marginalised communities.

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