Facebook’s ‘secret rulebook’ for content moderation just leaked online — and some of its directives could contradict Indian laws: Report

  • Facebook’s ‘secret rulebook’ for moderating global political speech was leaked to the New York Times.
  • The ‘secret rulebook’ cites that any comments or posts that are critical of religion should be taken down or flagged even though the Indian law doesn’t force any such censorship.
  • Another document states that moderators should be wary of posts that use phrases like ‘Free Kashmir’, commonly used by activists in the Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir — and perfectly legal, according to the report.
  • Facebook’s one-size-fits-all approach is in contradiction to the fundamental right of freedom of speech in India.
Facebook has come under fire for how it moderates its political ads repeatedly. Now, the leaked documents to the New York Times show that the social network’s ‘secret rulebook’ for moderating political speech seems to be in ‘apparent’ contradiction with Indian laws.

The 1,400 pages collated by more than 7,500 moderators show that the company’s guidelines are riddled with inaccuracies, biases and errors, according to the report. It’s no secret that Facebook is a powerful arbiter of global speech, which makes such glaring anomalies all the more reason for concern.

India is Facebook’s largest consumer base with 294 million users as of October 2018. But the company’s guidelines are negligent to the extent that one of the documents cited states that comments that are critical of religion should be removed from the site.

Religion is a complex issue that can’t be boiled down to simple yes-or-no arbitration especially in a country that’s home to at least nine recognised religions. The Indian law doesn’t dictate any such censorship on religious speech, until and unless it’s inciting or propagating violence, according to the report.

Another document in the leak tells moderators to be on the lookout for phrases like ‘Free Kashmir’. The slogan is commonly used by activists — not to mention that it’s perfectly legal as per the report.

The ‘secret rulebook’

It’s troubling to see that the report notes that Facebook allegedly propagates these guidelines further by advising its moderators that if the ‘secret rulebook’ isn’t followed — it could lead to Facebook potentially being blocked in India.

The issue isn’t about India alone — it’s about regulating global political speech with powerpoint presentations like ‘Western Balkans Hate Orgs and Figures’ and ‘Credible Violence: Implementation Standards’.

Ahead of the elections in Pakistan, where the government enforces a media blackout on Election Day, Facebook is one of the primary sources of information. So the 40-page document titled, “Political parties, expected trends and guidelines,” is what probably shaped the conversation — unbeknownst to the public.

One of the guidelines was to apply ‘extra scrutiny’ Jamiat Ulema-e-Islam, cited as a ‘hard-line’ religious party, while calling Jamaat-e-Islami, another religious party, as ‘benign’ in the documents.

It’s understandable that Facebook is worried about its image consider the incidents that have taken place during the past year, but the one-size-fits-all rules are being implemented by telling moderators to follow the ‘secret rulebook’ blindly.

In the past, Indian users have criticized Facebook for taking censorship too far after it implemented a new set of rules under its ‘Sexual Solicitation’ section of Community Standards.

Business Insider India has reached out to Facebook for a comment, but the company is yet to comment on the leak of their ‘secret rulebook’ and on its moderation practices.

See also:
Facebook hits a new level of censorship and its users aren’t happy

50 million Facebook accounts breached, why Indian users should care

Facebook approved fake political ads 'paid for' by Cambridge Analytica

Facebook will now show who exactly is paying to swing people's votes through online political advertising
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