Facebook stalling report on human rights impact in India, allege whistleblowers
Papers leaked by Frances Haugen revealed users in India were inundated with fake news and anti-Muslim posts
Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen and other prominent whistleblowers have renewed calls for Facebook to release a long-awaited report on its impact in India, alleging the company is purposely obscuring human rights concerns.
More than 20 organizations on Wednesday joined whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang, as well as former Facebook vice-president Brian Boland, to demand the company, now called Meta, release its findings.
“As a result of the consistent and continuous barrage of hate on social media, particularly on Facebook, Indian Muslims have been practically dehumanized and rendered helpless and voiceless,” said Zafarul-Islam Khan, a former chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission, speaking at a press briefing organized by Facebook critics known as the Real Facebook Oversight Board.
Meta had commissioned law firm Foley Hoag in 2020 to carry out an independent review of its impact in India – the company’s largest market at 340 million users – but its release has repeatedly been delayed, activists allege.
In November, rights groups told the Wall Street Journal that the social media company had narrowed the draft report’s scope and was delaying the process of releasing it.
Calls for more information on how hate speech plays out on Meta platforms in India intensified when Haugen leaked internal documents in 2021 showing how the the company struggles to monitor problematic content in countries with large user bases.
The papers revealed in particular how users in India were inundated with fake news, hate speech including anti-Muslim posts and bots interfering with elections. These papers underscored an ongoing critique that the company does not allocate proportional resources to its larger, non-English markets.
Haugen revealed in her papers and testimony to Congress that Facebook has earmarked only 13% of its global misinformation budget to non-US countries, though Americans make up just 10% of its active daily user base.
Such funding issues are particularly stark in countries like India, which has 22 official languages, said Teesta Setalvad, an Indian civil rights activist and journalist, in a press conference on Wednesday.
“Facebook allows unchecked inciting content that has become an instrument for targeting minorities, Dalits and women in India,” she said.
Facebook’s director of human rights policy, Miranda Sissons, said in a statement : “Given the complexity of this work, we want these assessments to be thorough. We will report annually on how we’re addressing human rights impacts, in line with our Human Rights Policy.”
In their letter to Facebook, activists cited the UN guiding principles on business and human rights, which urge that companies should “be prepared to communicate this externally, particularly when concerns are raised by or on behalf of affected stakeholders”.
“Facebook knows its operations happen behind a veil,” Haugen said. “But when we speak to each other, we begin to see a larger, more comprehensive view. We must push for mandatory transparency.”
“Unless Facebook is required to publish, India will not get the safety it deserves,” she added.
Reuters contributed to this report
(c) 2022, The Guardian