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RSS-linked Accounts Promote Hate Speech, ‘Anti-Muslim Narrative’ in India: Facebook Whistleblower

One of Frances Haugen’s main claims on Facebook’s work in India is that pages associated with the RSS promoted ‘fear mongering, anti-Muslim narratives.’
RSS-linked Accounts Promote Hate Speech, ‘Anti-Muslim Narrative’ in India: Facebook Whistleblower

Representational Image. Image Courtesy: Reuters

Shocking revelations made by the “Facebook whistleblower”, Frances Haugen, who used to work as a data scientist for the social media giant, comprise several references to the promotion of communal divisiveness and ethnic violence in India, The Telegraph reported.

One of her main claims on Facebook’s work in India is that pages associated with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) promoted “fear mongering, anti-Muslim narratives” while the dearth of Hindi and Bengali language editors resulted in such hate speech going unchecked on the platform.

Last month, Haugen filed at least eight complaints with the United States Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US markets watchdog, through lawyers at the NGO, Whistleblower Aid. In a complaint, her lawyers claimed the social media platform “promotes global division and ethnic violence” by citing internal company documents. Haugen went public with her allegations on CBS News earlier this week, and later, she testified to the US Congress.

A leaked internal FB document entitled “Adversarial Harmful Networks – India Case Study” was cited in one of the SEC complaints uploaded on CBS News’ website.

According to the Telegraph, the excerpt from the complaint says, “RSS (Indian nationalist organization Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) Users, Groups, and Pages promote fear mongering, anti-Muslim narratives targeted pro-Hindu populations with V&I (violent and incendiary) intent…. There were a number of dehumanizing posts comparing Muslims to ‘pigs’ and ‘dogs’ and misinformation (claiming that men have been urged to rape their female family members).”

It further added, “Our lack of Hindi and Bengali classifiers means much of this (anti-Muslim) content is never flagged or actioned….”

Haugen cited an undated internal survey by Facebook, which claims that the posts that got the most views were fake or inauthentic. “40% of Top VPV (View Port Views, or impressions) Civic Posters in West Bengal Were Fake/Inauthentic/fake. The highest-VPV user to be assessed as inauthentic had more than 30M accrued in the L28 (last 28 days),” one of the complaints said, according to the newspaper report. It added that among the viral shares was an “out-of-context” video by an Indian politician to stir anti-Muslim and anti-Pakistan sentiments.

She cited another leaked internal document titled “Lotus Mahal” that suggested that the Bharatiya Janata Party, the de facto political arm of the RSS, encouraged its members to create multiple Facebook accounts.

“BJP IT Cell worker (shared) coordinated messaging instructions to supporters with a copypaste campaign... targeting politically-sensitive tags… 103 suspicious entities across IN & BD (India and Bangladesh),” the excerpt from the complaint was quoted as saying.

A Facebook spokesperson told the newspaper that over time, Facebook has significantly invested in technology to detect and reduce hate speech globally. The spokesperson added that Facebook had a team of content reviewers covering 20 Indian languages.

Meanwhile, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote to the platform’s employees earlier this week saying, “If we didn’t care about fighting harmful content, then why would we employ so many more people dedicated to this than any other company in our space --- even ones larger than us?”

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