On February 4, 2019, a Facebook researcher created a new user account to see what it was like to experience the social media site as a person living in Kerala, India.
For the next three weeks, the account worked according to a simple rule: Follow all the recommendations created by Facebook algorithms to join groups, watch videos, and explore new pages on the site.
The result was a flood of hate speech, misinformation and celebrations of violence, which were documented in an internal Facebook report published later that month.
After this test, News Feed users, I have seen more images of dead people in the last three weeks than I have seen in my total life, wrote the Facebook researcher.
The report was one of dozens of studies and memoranda written by Facebook employees struggling with the effects of the platform in India. They provide clear evidence of one of the most serious criticisms made by human rights activists and politicians against the company worldwide: it moves to a country without fully understanding its potential impact on local culture and politics and fails to use resources to act. for issues as they occur.
With 340 million people using Facebook various social media platforms, India is the company’s largest market. And Facebook’s problems on the subcontinent represent a reinforced version of the issues it has faced around the world, exacerbated by a lack of resources and a lack of expertise in the 22 officially recognized languages of India.
The internal documents, obtained from a consortium of news organizations that included The New York Times, are part of a larger amount of material called The Facebook Papers. They were compiled by Frances Haugen, a former Facebook product manager, who became an informant and recently testified before a Senate subcommittee about the company and its social media platforms. References to India were distributed among the documents submitted by Ms. Haugen to the Securities and Exchange Commission in a complaint earlier this month.
The documents include reports of robots and fake accounts linked to the ruling party and opposition figures in the country wreaking havoc in national elections. They also detail how a plan backed by Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to focus on meaningful social interactions, or exchanges between friends and family, was leading to more misinformation in India, especially during the pandemic.
Facebook did not have enough resources in India and was unable to cope with the problems it had introduced there, including anti-Muslim posts, according to its documents. Eighty-seven percent of the company’s global budget for time spent on misinformation classification is reserved for the United States, while only 13 percent is set aside for the rest of the world, even though North American users make up only 10 per cent. percent of social networks every day. active users, according to a document describing the distribution of resources by Facebook.
Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, said the figures were incomplete and did not include the company’s third-party fact-checking partners, most of whom are outside the United States.
This one-sided focus on the United States has had repercussions in a number of countries besides India. Company documents showed that Facebook installed measures to reduce disinformation during the November elections in Myanmar, including disinformation disseminated by the Myanmar military junta.
The company canceled these measures after the election, despite studies showing that they reduced the number of views of incentive posts by 25.1 percent and photo posts containing misinformation by 48.5 percent. Three months later, the military staged a violent coup in the country. Facebook said that after the coup, it was implemented a special policy to remove praise and support for violence in the country, and later banned the Myanmar military from Facebook and Instagram.
In Sri Lanka, people were able to automatically add hundreds of thousands of users to Facebook groups, exposing them to content that incites violence and hatred. In Ethiopia, a group of nationalist youth militias successfully coordinated calls for violence on Facebook and posted other inciting content.
Facebook has invested heavily in technology to find hate speech in a variety of languages, including Hindi and Bengali, two of the most widely used languages, Mr Stone said. He added that Facebook has halved the amount of hate speech people see around the world this year.
Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise in India and globally, Mr Stone said. So we are improving implementation and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech develops online.
In India, there is definitely a question about resources for Facebook, but the answer is not just to throw more money into the problem, said Katie Harbath, who spent 10 years on Facebook as director of public policy and worked directly on national security. India. elections. Facebook, she said, needs to find a solution that can be applied in countries around the world.
Facebook employees have conducted various tests and conducted field studies in India for several years. This work grew ahead of India 2019 national elections; in late January of that year, a handful of Facebook employees traveled to the country to meet with colleagues and talk to dozens of local Facebook users.
According to a memo written after the trip, one of the main demands from users in India was for Facebook to take action on the types of misinformation related to real-world harm, particularly the politics and tension of religious groups.
Ten days after the researcher opened the fake account to study misinformation, a suicide attack in the disputed Kashmir border region sparked a round of violence and an increase in accusations, misinformation and conspiracies between Indian and Pakistani nationals.
After the attack, anti-Pakistani content began circulating in groups recommended by Facebook, where the researcher had joined. Many of the groups, she noted, had tens of thousands of users. A different report from Facebook, published in December 2019, found that Indian Facebook users tended to join large groups, with the country’s average group size at 140,000 members.
Graphic posts, including a meme showing the beheading of a Pakistani national and dead bodies wrapped in white sheets on the ground, circulated in the groups she joined.
After the researcher shared her case study with her colleagues, her colleagues commented in the report posted that they were concerned about misinformation regarding the upcoming elections in India.
Two months after India’s national elections began, Facebook took a series of steps to stem the flow of misinformation and hate speech in the country, according to an internal document called the Indian Electoral Case Study.
The case study painted an optimistic picture of Facebook’s efforts, including the addition of more fact-finding partners to the third-party media network with which Facebook works to transfer fact-checking and increase the amount of misinformation he removed. He also noted how Facebook had created a political whitelist to limit the risk of PR, essentially a list of politicians who received a special exemption from fact-checking.
Understand Facebook letters
A tech giant in trouble. The leak of internal documents from a former Facebook employee has provided an intimate look at the company’s secret social media operations and has renewed calls for better company fixes that extend widely into the lives of its users.
The study did not point out the major problem the company faced with robots in India, nor issues like voter repression. During the election, Facebook saw an increase in bots or fake accounts linked to various political groups, as well as attempts to spread misinformation that could have affected people’s understanding of the voting process.
In a separate post-election report, Facebook found that over 40 percent of key views or impressions in the Indian state of West Bengal were false / inauthentic. An inauthentic account had amassed more than 30 million impressions.
A report published in March 2021 showed that many of the problems mentioned during the 2019 elections continued.
In the internal document, entitled Harmful Opposition Networks: Case Study of India, Facebook researchers write that there were groups and pages filled with anti-Muslim incitement and deceptive content on Facebook.
The report said there were a number of inhumane posts comparing Muslims to pigs and dogs, and misinformation claiming that the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam, calls on men to rape their female family members.
Much of the material circulated around Facebook groups promoting Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, an Indian right-wing and nationalist group with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party or BJP in India, or BJP. , and published Facebook posts calling for the expulsion of Muslim populations from India and promoting a law to control the Muslim population.
Facebook knew such malicious posts spread on its platform, the report showed, and needed to improve its classifiers, which are automated systems that can detect and remove posts that contain violent and provocative language. Facebook also hesitated to designate RSS as a dangerous organization because of the political sensitivities that could affect the functioning of social networks in the country.
Of the 22 officially recognized languages in India, Facebook said it has trained its AI systems in five. (He said there were human reviewers for some others.) But in Hindi and Bengali, it still did not have enough data to adequately control the content, and most of the content aimed at Muslims is never marked or operated, it said. Facebook report.
Five months ago, Facebook was still struggling to effectively remove hate speech against Muslims. Another company reports detailed efforts by Bajrang Dal, an extremist group affiliated with the BJP, to publish posts containing anti-Muslim narratives on the platform.
Facebook is considering defining the group as a dangerous organization because it is inciting religious violence on the platform, the document showed. But he has not done so yet.
Join the group and help lead the group; increase the number of group members, friends, said a post that seeks recruits on Facebook to spread Bajrang Dals messages. Fight for truth and justice until the unjust are destroyed.
Ryan Mac, Cecilia Kang AND Mike Isaac contributed to reporting.
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