The Association for Progressive Communications (APC) is deeply concerned about the escalating instances of hate speech in India and is alarmed at reports of Facebook India’s failure to apply its community standards to the perpetrators of hate speech on its platform. In response to this trend, we sent a letter to Facebook executives requesting that they take concrete steps to address this situation.
In our letter, we call on Facebook to:
Conduct an audit on hate speech on their platform and take immediate action against such content.
Conduct a thorough investigation into allegations of non-application of community standards relating to hate speech by Facebook India.
Place erring officials responsible for the failure of curbing hate speech on the platform on leave while the investigation is being carried out.
Commit to putting in place measures to remedy any political bias in the policy or operation spaces of Facebook towards maintaining neutrality.
Immediately engage in an open dialogue with civil society and marginalised communities to identify and implement solutions.
The situation in India
Over the past few years, there has been a steady rise in hate and communal violence against persons belonging to minority religions in India. Earlier this year, India experienced historic protests against the draconian and discriminatory Citizenship Amendment Act and the National Register of Citizens. In response, India has witnessed large-scale violence against dissenters, police excesses, and a clampdown on freedoms of religion and expression as well as assembly and association.
Communal violence against religious and caste minorities, which has come at a severe human and monetary cost, has been propelled by state complicity and rampant hate speech in media and online spaces.
The situation has worsened with a steep rise in Islamophobic and other hate speech content against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, where members of India’s ruling party took to social media to propagate misinformation and stigma against minorities.
Hate speech and the role of platforms
Hate speech not only hurts, but also lays the ground for hostility and violence.
Systematic dehumanisation carried out through smear campaigns, slurs, misinformation, sensational and fabricated “news” on social media enable the construction of an “other” as a threat to the social fabric or national security. This has the effect of routinising discrimination and even physical violence, ultimately paving the way for communal disharmony and genocide. Social media platforms such as Facebook, which are a dominant source of information and communication, are key players in ensuring such violence is not perpetuated.
With over 290 million users, the highest across the globe, Facebook India has five offices in the country employing thousands of Indian nationals. Concerns relating to hate speech in India on the company’s platforms have been repeatedly raised by civil society and international experts. Similar concerns have also been raised in other countries in the region such as Sri Lanka and Myanmar. In Myanmar, Facebook has been used to propagate hate and violence against Rohingya Muslims, which has repeatedly resulted in riots and violent killings.
Platforms like Facebook face huge challenges in dealing with the volume of hate speech currently circulating online. It is crucial that these platforms root their community standards, policies and operations in international human rights law and standards, especially when dealing with hate speech, which has far-reaching consequences. Executives responsible for policy making and compliance must resolve to ensure accountability and prevent monetary considerations trumping the rights and safety of users. Hate speech from and against persons belonging to all or any religions or faiths must be treated with equal seriousness.
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