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Human rights groups claim Facebook is interfering with report on hate speech in India

The Hill logo The Hill 11/12/2021 Rebecca Klar
a sign attached to a can of soda: Smart phone screen display of Facebook logo © Getty Images Smart phone screen display of Facebook logo

Human rights groups say that Facebook is narrowing the scope of and delaying the process for an independent report commissioned to investigate hate speech on the social media giant's platform in India.

Representatives for the groups told The Wall Street Journal they provided hundreds of examples of inflammatory content and suggested ways the platform could better moderate content in India to the firm Facebook commissioned for the report in mid-2020, but said the social media giant is stifling the independent report.

However, Facebook pushed back on the accusations that it is interfering with the report. A spokesperson for Meta, Facebook's new parent company name, said the goal is to be thorough, not "meet an arbitrary deadline."

"We look forward to our independent assessor, Foley Hoag, completing their India assessment," spokesman Andy Stone told the Journal.

Stone said Foley Hoag, the firm commissioned by Facebook for the report, is in charge of the process and that Facebook is not aware of or in touch with which groups were contacted. Stone also told the Journal the platform has removed some of the material that the groups flagged.

Gare Smith, partner and chair of Foley Hoag's global business and human rights practice, told the Journal "our work is still ongoing."

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Smith said the coronavirus pandemic "considerably slowed" the firm's work and said "there has never been a specific date set for its completion."

However, Ratik Asokan from India Civil Watch International, told the Journal that Facebook has raised technical objections to the law firm that has delayed the process, such as changing definitions of what is considered hate speech.

"They are trying to kill [the report]," Asokan told the Journal.

Ritumbra Manuvie, a co-founder of The London Story, a group that studies disinformation and hate speech, told the Journal her organization provides the firm with content she said violates Facebook's rules but has not been taken down. For example, a video with an estimated 40 million views shows a Hindu speaker telling an audience that Muslims should be exterminated.

The latest Journal report follows a series the newspaper published starting last month based on internal Facebook documents leaked by company whistleblower Frances Haugen.

Part of the series included a report that Facebook researchers found the platform had inflammatory content in India and one report linked to deadly religious riots. Facebook told outlets at the time that it invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali.

More broadly, the company has pushed back on reports based on the leaked documents arguing the internal researcher is being mischaracterized.


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