An analysis of hate speech and disinformation on the social networking site Facebook India by a South Asian American human rights and technology research organisation shows that the highest proportion of hate speech — 37 per cent — is linked to Islamophobia.
This is followed by false news (16 per cent), and content that can be classified as casteist and gender/ sexuality-related hate speech, each accounting for 13 per cent of the hate speech content.
The report by the US-based Equality Labs titled ‘Facebook India: Towards The Tipping Point of Violence Caste and Religious Hate Speech’ states that homophobic content is so widely prevalent on Facebook that it had to be tracked as its own category, separate from all other religious minorities. “Homophobic content is foundational to the hate speech echo chamber in Facebook India… (It) is often the most violent, most threatening, and most gruesome,” the report reads. Anti-religious minorities content, other than Islamophobia, accounted for another 9 per cent of the hate speech.
The report, which dis-aggregates hate speech content into categories in the Indian context as also analyses Facebook’s response, is set to be released on Wednesday at the RightsCon Summit on human rights in the digital age in Tunis.
It looks at more than 1,000 posts in six Indian languages over a period of four months. The sample set is based on Facebook’s own guidelines for tier 1 hate speech which include violent or dehumanising speech that targets a person or people based on Facebook’s defined protected categories (“race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender tech identity, and serious disease or disability”). This includes content advocating violence, bullying and use of offensive slurs.
The study points to failure of the content moderation process by Facebook, adding that 93 per cent of all hate speech posts reported are still available on the platform. It also faults Facebook’s hiring policies that do not include those with an understanding of issues of caste, religious, gender and queer minorities.
A Facebook spokesperson told the Indian Express: “We recognize, respect, and seek to protect the rights of minorities and communities that are often marginalized, both in India and around the world. We have clear rules against hate speech, which we define as attacks against people on the basis of their protected characteristics, including caste, nationality, ethnicity, religion, sexual orientation and gender identity. We take this extremely seriously and remove this content as soon as we become aware of it. To do this, we have invested in staff in India, including content reviewers, with local language capabilities and an understanding of the country’s longstanding historical and social tensions. We’ve also made significant progress in proactively detecting hate speech on our services before anyone reports it to us, to help us get to potentially harmful content faster.”
A further breakdown of posts within each category shows that of the Islamophobic posts, 6 per cent is anti-Rohingya “with calls to violence similar to content that led to the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar”. The rest were mostly pertaining to ‘love jihad’, glorification of violence by alluding to earlier instances of religious violence against Muslims, and Islamophobic profanities.
Less than half of the casteist hate speech on Facebook India, it states, is relating to India’s reservation policy with the rest being caste slurs, anti-Ambedkar messages and anti inter-caste personal relationships content. Similarly, a quarter of the posts containing gender/sexuality hate speech were found to be transphobic or queerphobic in content including calls for sexual violence.
Outlining why Facebook needs to strengthen its content moderation policy, the report states, “In a country of 1.3 billion people with over 294 million active accounts, Facebook India’s user base will soon exceed the entire population of the United States. And, unlike the US, Facebook India has an unprecedented growth potential of over 400% because a whole new generation of users has yet to come online. The future of Facebook then is the Indian market.”
Thenmozhi Soundararajan, executive director at Equality Labs, said, “Given the advocacy of many civil society groups in India about the scope and scale of hate speech and disinformation on the platform, Facebook has to work with civil society to conduct an independent human rights audit. This is a call for a thorough examination of their operations that Facebook should itself fund as they did in the US market.”
Following allegations of bias from conservatives and minority groups in the US and CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s Congressional hearings, Facebook asked an American civil rights leader in 2018 to audit the company regarding voter suppression, content moderation, advertising targeting, diversity and more.