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Government “alarmed” by Facebook whistleblower leaks, writes to Facebook India CEO: Report

Amid calls for a joint parliamentary probe into Facebook, the IT Ministry is seemingly taking the matter into its own hands.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) has written a letter to Facebook’s India CEO Ajit Mohan seeking details regarding Facebook’s content moderation practices and the company’s efforts to prevent online harm, the Economic Times has reported. MediaNama reached out to MeitY but could not independently confirm the development.

The government is “alarmed” by the recent revelations made by Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen, a source told ET. According to the source, the ministry has also “questioned Facebook on the due diligence that is prescribed under the IT Rules.” Facebook declined to comment on the development.

The leaks by Haugen reveal, among other things, that Facebook refrained from banning right-wing groups in India that spread anti-Muslim content due to fear of backlash from the Indian government. Opposition parties and civil society members earlier called for a joint parliamentary probe into Facebook, but the IT Ministry is seemingly taking the investigation into its own hands.

What the Facebook whistleblower said about hate speech

Former Facebook employee-turned whistleblower Frances Haugen recently revealed critical details about Facebook’s content moderation in a series of interviews:

  • How much Facebook engaged with hate speech: Haugen revealed that an internal study conducted this year at Facebook estimated that the platform takes action only against 3-5% of hate speech and six-tenths of 1% of violence and incitement content on Facebook.
  • Facebook investing little outside English-speaking countries: Haugen also revealed that in its ‘integrity spending’ Facebook allocates 87% of it to English-speaking countries who form 9% of its users. She later also said that Facebook is misleading multiple people across the world by telling them that their safety systems apply in their languages although they are actually getting the ‘original, dangerous’ version of Facebook.

A Facebook spokesperson told us that Facebook has made efforts to reduce hate speech on the platform:

We’ve invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali. As a result, we’ve reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half this year… Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online. – Facebook spokesperson

Related: A summary of all eight complaints made by Facebook Whistleblower Frances Haugen

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What have recent leaks revealed about Facebook’s hate speech moderation in India?

According to a report by the Wall Street Journal, Facebook researchers identified two Hindu nationalist groups that spread “inflammatory anti-Muslim content” on the platform:

  • Bajrang Dal: Researchers at Facebook found in a report that the Bajrang Dal “used WhatsApp to organize and incite violence,” and recommended that the group be taken down, the Wall Street Journal has reported.
  • Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh: In a separate report reviewed by the Journal, researchers found that the RSS was responsible for posting anti-Muslim content including posts that:
    • compared Muslims to pigs and dogs
    • spread misinformation claiming the Quran calls for men to rape female family members
    • claimed Muslim clerics spit on food to make it halal or spread COVID-19

No action taken: The researchers recommended, according to WSJ, that pages linked to the Bajrang Dal be taken down, but the right-wing group still remains active on the platform. The report also found that RSS was not designated as harmful due to ‘political sensitivities’.

In response to queries sent by MediaNama, a Facebook spokesperson told us that they “ban individuals or entities after following a careful, rigorous, and multi-disciplinary process.” and enforce their “Dangerous Organizations and Individuals policy globally.”

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Figuring out subscriptions and growth at MediaNama. Email: nishant@medianama.com

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.



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