Facebook Struggled to Curb Violent, Divisive Content in India, Internal Documents Show
04:31 GMT 24.10.2021 (Updated: 18:21 GMT 03.11.2022)
Frances Haugen, a former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower, testified before a US Senate panel earlier this month and warned lawmakers of critical safety concerns regarding the company's products. Haugen also provided the Wall Street Journal with documents that became the basis for the outlet's 'Facebook Files' series.
Facebook was aware that its flagship social media platform fostered violence and severe episodes of misinformation in India, according to documents leaked by Haugen and obtained by US media outlets.
The provided leaks included a 2021 case study showing that harmful contents from Hindu nationalist organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) and Bajrang Dal was not properly flagged on Facebook and WhatsApp.
According to the report, the flaggings did not occur because the system was not sophisticated enough to spot such dangerous content when it was written in Bengali and Hindi. The languages were labelled as priorities for "automation on violating hostile speech."
The documents date from 2019 to March 2021, and were originally issued by Haugen to the US Securities and Exchange Commission.
© AFP 2023 / DREW ANGERERFormer Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill, October 5, 2021, in Washington, DC.
Former Facebook employee and whistleblower Frances Haugen testifies before a Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation hearing on Capitol Hill, October 5, 2021, in Washington, DC.
© AFP 2023 / DREW ANGERER
In one note, titled "An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarising, Nationalistic Messages," an employee created a test user account in India around the time 40 Indian soldiers were killed during a militant attack in Kashmir.
The employee claimed that his news feed at the time "has become a near constant barrage of polarising nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore".
The employee claimed the content was Islamophobic and littered with untruths.
In a statement to the Associated Press, Facebook highlighted that it has "invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali," which has "reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half" in 2021.
"Hate speech against marginalised 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," said the Facebook spokesperson.