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‘Micromanaging each line of content,’ not the best regulatory approach: Facebook’s Nick Clegg

The former UK deputy prime minister also defended Facebook’s approach to dealing with hate speech in India, which has come under the scanner in light of some new reports, and said the company removes “huge amounts of content,” often even “before anyone reports it.”

Written by Shruti Dhapola | Updated: December 15, 2020 12:57:04 pm
WhatsApp, Facebook Fuel for India, Facebook Fuel for India event, WhatsApp head, WhatsApp CEO, WhatsApp Will Cathcart, WhatsApp payments in IndiaFacebook Fuel for India event is taking place today and tomorrow with speakers including WhatsApp head Will Cathcart, Instagram head Adam Mosseri and Facebook India head Ajit Mohan.

Defending Facebook’s approach to how it monitors hate speech on the platform, Nick Clegg, Vice-President for Global Affairs and Communications said a regulatory approach, which tries to ‘micromanage’ each line of content or every single post is not the best one. “We are very responsive to law enforcement requests in India or elsewhere for cooperation,” Clegg said at Facebook’s two-day Fuel for India event Tuesday.

He said the regulatory approach should try and  “hold companies like Facebook accountable to the…systems and the policies that they (social media companies) have in place,” adding that a regulation which does not “hinder the way in which the international economy now relies on international data flows,” is the “sensible overall approach.”

The former UK deputy prime minister also defended Facebook’s approach to dealing with hate speech in India, which has come under the scanner in light of some new reports, and said the company removes “huge amounts of content,” often even “before anyone reports it.”

He emphasised that there was a distinction between Facebook and Instagram, which are more public social media platforms vs WhatsApp, which is an end-to-end encrypted platform. “What we say to policymakers in India and elsewhere is because we can’t see the content that doesn’t mean that we cannot use signals that we do pick up, what is called metadata. We can use metadata to pick up signals so that we can go after people on an encrypted messaging system,” he pointed out.

India is likely to change it intermediary rules, which could add a traceability clause for encrypted apps, such as WhatsApp and might require them to break end-to-end encryption as it exists right now.

He said WhatsApp removes 2 million WhatsApp accounts every month, particularly if those accounts are being used for sort of the mass broadcast messages, which is not the purpose of the app. “We will continue to explain to policymakers as best as we can, that we think that millions, billions of people around the world expect the privacy of an intimate end-to-end encrypted messaging service, even as we continue to cooperate with them in other ways,” Clegg added.

Regarding content removal on Facebook, he pointed out how the company has “AI systems to proactively protect hate speech in 45 languages globally.” Clegg said that 98.99 per cent of times the content is removed before anyone reports it to them. He also talked about Facebook’s OverSight board, an independent panel, which will have the right to overrule Facebook if users make an appeal over a piece of content that was either taken down.

When asked if it would make sense to have community guidelines specific to India, Clegg called it a complex issue. “The complex thing about all this is that Facebook as a company has been put under tremendous political pressure, whether it’s in India or elsewhere, by people who have different views and often conflicting views about what shouldn’t and shouldn’t be circulating freely on the internet, even though it is legal,” he said.

He said the company had a “very transparent” approach on how it acted against content which “conflicts with our community standards,” and that those standards were developed in a “highly transparent way.”

“Given that we are a global company we have to have community standards that we try to apply as evenly as we can around the world and we do so as consistently as we can,” he added. “It doesn’t mean that there aren’t national legislative requirements and other exceptional requirements that we don’t respond to,” he said, giving the example of Germany where it is illegal by law to deny the Holocaust, which was not the case in other countries. Facebook geo-blocks that content in Germany. “There is adaptability, there must be to specific circumstances,” he said.

WhatsApp committed to delivering reliable, private service

Facebook’s event also saw the presence of Will Cathcart, head of WhatsApp, who highlighted how WhatsApp has played an important role in communications during the lockdown. “We’ve all relied on text and video calls is the next best thing to having face-to-face conversations. That’s why WhatsApp is so committed to delivering a reliable service that is private and secure. We feel safe when we can share our true feelings, and our hopes and dreams for what’s to come after this pandemic,” Cathcart said.

He also talked about WhatsApp’s payments feature, which was rolled out this year after being granted regulatory approval adding that the company is ”thrilled by the opportunity to bring payments to more people in India this year.”

“Our goal was to make sending a payment as easy as sending a message, sending money should be simple, easy and secure digital payments gives people a way to help other people to create and grow the micro and small businesses that are the backbone of India’s economy,” he added.

He also talked about how the app worked with “Central and state health authorities to provide people with factual updates around India’s response to COVID-19.” The WhatsApp head gave examples of how the messaging app played a major role in the lives of Indians in 2020 given the lockdown, such as parents using the app to help their children with schoolwork or banks and financial institutions working with the app, so that people could get help and services without entering a local branch.

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