Internal documents reveal how Facebook struggled to deal with misinformation and hate speech in India

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Internal documents reveal how Facebook struggled to deal with misinformation and hate speech in India
The reports showed how Facebook was a mess during the 2019 general election in India. Unsplash
  • The recent documents on Facebook revealed by whistleblower Frances Haugen have several reports on the company’s role in India.
  • Various experiments and tests showed Facebook’s algorithms recommending groups and pages that promoted hate speech and misinformation.
  • The documents also revealed a rise in bots and fake accounts during the 2019 general election in India.
Facebook has a serious hate speech and misinformation problem in India, and it has been struggling to control it. The new findings of the social media giant’s presence in India are a part of “The Facebook Papers” collected by whistleblower Frances Haugen, the New York Times report. There are many reports on how Facebook’s algorithms recommended content that incited violence, and how it failed to stop misinformation among its biggest user base.

These reports were written by Facebook employees on their experiences of how the social media platform affects India. One report explained how a Facebook researcher created a new user account as a person living in Kerala. It followed groups, watched videos and checked out new pages all recommended by Facebook. “Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the Facebook researcher wrote in the report.

The reports also showed how Facebook was a mess during the 2019 general election in India. The platform was filled with bots and fake accounts related to the ruling party BJP and opposition “wreaking havoc”. Facebook had announced steps to counter misinformation and also partnered with fact-checkers in the run up to the general election. But it also created a “political white list” to exempt some politicians from fact-checking. It also found that there were bots and fake accounts that spread misinformation on the voting process.

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An internal document called “Adversarial Harmful Networks: India Case Study” showed that Facebook is filled with anti-Muslim content which mostly includes “dehumanising posts” and misinformation. The company was also aware of groups promoting organisations like the RSS and Bajrang Dal that pushed for anti-Muslim content on the platform. It even considered designating these organisations as “dangerous” but didn’t take any decision fearing it could affect the company’s operations in the country.

The bigger problem here is Facebook’s global budget for classifying misinformation wherein 87% is allocated for the United States which accounts for only 10% of its total user base. As for the remaining 13%, it’s for other countries including India. Facebook’s change in the news feed to focus on engagements between friends and family also further pushed misinformation in India, especially during the pandemic.

According to Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone, these figures don’t include third-party fact-checkers. Stone added that Facebook has invested in finding hate speech in various Indian languages including Hindi and Bengali. Stone acknowledged that there is a rise in hate speech against marginalised groups including Muslims in India and globally and that Facebook is “improving enforcement” and updating its policies.

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