Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India
Facebook saw India as one of the most ‘at risk countries’ in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for ‘automation on violating hostile speech.’ (AFP)
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Updated 24 October 2021

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India

Facebook dithered in curbing divisive user content in India
  • Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence
  • Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different

NEW DELHI: Facebook in India has been selective in curbing hate speech, misinformation and inflammatory posts, particularly anti-Muslim content, according to leaked documents obtained by The Associated Press, even as the Internet giant’s own employees cast doubt over the its motivations and interests.
Based on research produced as recently as March of this year to company memos that date back to 2019, internal company documents on India highlight Facebook’s constant struggles in quashing abusive content on its platforms in the world’s biggest democracy and the company’s largest growth market. Communal and religious tensions in India have a history of boiling over on social media and stoking violence.
The files show that Facebook has been aware of the problems for years, raising questions over whether it has done enough to address the issues. Many critics and digital experts say it has failed to do so, especially in cases where members of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party are involved.
Across the world, Facebook has become increasingly important in politics, and India is no different.
Modi has been credited for leveraging the platform to his party’s advantage during elections, and reporting from The Wall Street Journal last year cast doubt over whether Facebook was selectively enforcing its policies on hate speech to avoid blowback from the BJP. Modi and Facebook chairman and CEO Mark Zuckerberg have exuded bonhomie, memorialized by a 2015 image of the two hugging at the Facebook headquarters.
The leaked documents include a trove of internal company reports on hate speech and misinformation in India that in some cases appeared to have been intensified by its own “recommended” feature and algorithms. They also include the company staffers’ concerns over the mishandling of these issues and their discontent over the viral “malcontent” on the platform.
According to the documents, Facebook saw India as one of the most “at risk countries” in the world and identified both Hindi and Bengali languages as priorities for “automation on violating hostile speech.” Yet, Facebook didn’t have enough local language moderators or content-flagging in place to stop misinformation that at times led to real-world violence.
In a statement to the AP, Facebook said it has “invested significantly in technology to find hate speech in various languages, including Hindi and Bengali” which “reduced the amount of hate speech that people see by half” in 2021.
“Hate speech against marginalized groups, including Muslims, is on the rise globally. So we are improving enforcement and are committed to updating our policies as hate speech evolves online,” a company spokesperson said.
This AP story, along with others being published, is based on disclosures made to the Securities and Exchange Commission and provided to Congress in redacted form by former Facebook employee-turned-whistleblower Frances Haugen’s legal counsel. The redacted versions were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the AP.
Back in February 2019 and ahead of a general election when concerns of misinformation were running high, a Facebook employee wanted to understand what a new user in India saw on their news feed if all they did was follow pages and groups solely recommended by the platform itself.
The employee created a test user account and kept it live for three weeks, a period during which an extraordinary event shook India — a militant attack in disputed Kashmir had killed over 40 Indian soldiers, bringing the country close to war with rival Pakistan.
In the note, titled “An Indian Test User’s Descent into a Sea of Polarizing, Nationalistic Messages,” the employee whose name is redacted said they were “shocked” by the content flooding the news feed. The person described the content as having “become a near constant barrage of polarizing nationalist content, misinformation, and violence and gore.”
Seemingly benign and innocuous groups recommended by Facebook quickly morphed into something else altogether, where hate speech, unverified rumors and viral content ran rampant.
The recommended groups were inundated with fake news, anti-Pakistan rhetoric and Islamophobic content. Much of the content was extremely graphic.
One included a man holding the bloodied head of another man covered in a Pakistani flag, with an Indian flag partially covering it. Its “Popular Across Facebook” feature showed a slew of unverified content related to the retaliatory Indian strikes into Pakistan after the bombings, including an image of a napalm bomb from a video game clip debunked by one of Facebook’s fact-check partners.
“Following this test user’s News Feed, I’ve seen more images of dead people in the past three weeks than I’ve seen in my entire life total,” the researcher wrote.
The report sparked deep concerns over what such divisive content could lead to in the real world, where local news outlets at the time were reporting on Kashmiris being attacked in the fallout.
“Should we as a company have an extra responsibility for preventing integrity harms that result from recommended content?” the researcher asked in their conclusion.
The memo, circulated with other employees, did not answer that question. But it did expose how the platform’s own algorithms or default settings played a part in producing such objectionable content. The employee noted that there were clear “blind spots,” particularly in “local language content.” They said they hoped these findings would start conversations on how to avoid such “integrity harms,” especially for those who “differ significantly” from the typical US user.
Even though the research was conducted during three weeks that weren’t an average representation, they acknowledged that it did show how such “unmoderated” and problematic content “could totally take over” during “a major crisis event.”
The Facebook spokesperson said the test study “inspired deeper, more rigorous analysis” of its recommendation systems and “contributed to product changes to improve them.”
“Separately, our work on curbing hate speech continues and we have further strengthened our hate classifiers, to include four Indian languages,” the spokesperson said.


Rights watchdog condemns assault of Afghan journalist

Afghan journalist Ahmad Baseer Ahmadi was recently attacked while walking to his home in Kabul. (CPJ/Social Media)
Afghan journalist Ahmad Baseer Ahmadi was recently attacked while walking to his home in Kabul. (CPJ/Social Media)
Updated 26 November 2021

Rights watchdog condemns assault of Afghan journalist

Afghan journalist Ahmad Baseer Ahmadi was recently attacked while walking to his home in Kabul. (CPJ/Social Media)
  • Ahmad Baseer Ahmadi, a presenter at privately owned broadcaster Ayna TV, was walking to his house when two unidentified men assaulted him
  • In October, unidentified gunmen injured journalists Abdul Khaliq Hussaini and Alireza Sharifi in separate attacks in Kabul

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists has condemned the violent attack on Afghani journalist Ahmad Baseer Ahmadi, who was assaulted in Kabul while on his way home. 

Ahmadi, a presenter at the privately owned broadcaster Ayna TV, was walking to his house when two unidentified men assaulted him and attempted to shoot him. 

The men, whose faces were covered by black handkerchiefs, reportedly shouted, “Reporter! Stop,” demanded to see his identification card and asked him where he worked. 

“The Taliban has repeatedly failed to uphold its stated commitment to press freedom, as violent attacks against journalists continue and proper investigations or accountability are nowhere to be found,” said CPJ’s Asia program coordinator, Steven Butler.

“The Taliban should reverse this trend by thoroughly investigating the attack on Ahmad Baseer Ahmadi, and holding the perpetrators accountable.”

Ahmadi’s assailants reportedly demanded he unlock his phone and open his WhatsApp and Facebook accounts. When Ahmadi refused, the men beat him with pistols and proceeded to shoot at him when he asked for help. 

The shots missed Ahmadi, but the men continued kicking him while he was on the ground, breaking his jaw. 

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan last August, the CPJ has voiced concerns about the safety of Afghan journalists, reporters and media workers. 

In October, unidentified gunmen injured journalists Abdul Khaliq Hussaini and Alireza Sharifi in separate attacks in Kabul, and Taliban members beat and detained Zahidullah Husainkhil.


Advocacy group calls on EU states to provide safe passage for Afghan journalists

News photographers light candles to pay tribute to Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui, after he was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters. (Reuters/File Photo)
News photographers light candles to pay tribute to Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui, after he was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters. (Reuters/File Photo)
Updated 26 November 2021

Advocacy group calls on EU states to provide safe passage for Afghan journalists

News photographers light candles to pay tribute to Reuters journalist Danish Siddiqui, after he was killed while covering a clash between Afghan security forces and Taliban fighters. (Reuters/File Photo)
  • Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the CPJ has voiced concerns about the safety of Afghan journalists, reporters and media workers

LONDON: The Committee to Protect Journalists on Monday called on EU states to provide safe passage for fleeing Afghan journalists and commit to helping them resettle in the EU.

Tom Gibson, CPJ’s EU representative, said: “Journalists fleeing Afghanistan have received far too little support from governments around the world and their safe passage must now become a political priority.

“EU member states must make clear commitments to Afghan journalists fleeing persecution, including concrete and collaborative strategies for their evacuation and resettlement. The EU has a duty not to turn the other way,” he added.

Since the Taliban takeover of Afghanistan in August, the CPJ has voiced concerns about the safety of Afghan journalists, reporters and media workers.

Recently, Afghan journalist Mohammad Ali Ahmadi was shot and injured in the capital Kabul for his work as a media professional. Similarly, a week earlier, Taliban fighters raided the homes of two journalists and seized cars, desktop computers and a licensed weapon from one of the houses.

The Taliban also raided the homes of three Deutsche Welle journalists in Afghanistan the week before, shot dead a relative of a DW reporter and severely injured another while attempting to track him down.

While EU member states, the UK and the US vowed to provide a safe passage for Afghan journalists, they are yet to voice clear commitments to aid in the resettling of high-risk Afghans in their own countries.


Award winners revealed at prestigious Middle East PR industry gongs ceremony

Award winners revealed at prestigious Middle East PR industry gongs ceremony
Updated 26 November 2021

Award winners revealed at prestigious Middle East PR industry gongs ceremony

Award winners revealed at prestigious Middle East PR industry gongs ceremony
  • 88 entries shortlisted in 56 categories for 2021 Middle East Public Relations Association awards

DUBAI: This year’s winners of a prestigious Middle Eastern public relations awards scheme were revealed at a recent presentation ceremony in the UAE.

More than 88 entries were shortlisted across 56 categories in the 2021 edition of the Middle East Public Relations Association awards.

The communications industry has been seriously impacted by the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic with many companies and organizations cutting their advertising and marketing budgets.

And the latest MEPRA awards took into account the damage caused to the sector by the global health crisis through categories such as best creative approach and best internal communications response during COVID-19, and best social impact campaign in response to the virus outbreak.

The classes saw gold trophies awarded to APCO Worldwide for its campaign “Adapting UOWD’s Education Model in the Age of the Pandemic,” Mastercard MEA for its “Priceless Together” project, and Action Global Communications for “ADEK Back to School,” respectively.

During the awards ceremony held in Dubai on Wednesday, Red Havas bagged gold for best campaign in the Middle East with Adidas’ “Beyond the Surface,” and Hill+Knowlton Strategies took silver and bronze for its PUBG Mobile “Game on Henedy,” and Facebook Inc. “#MonthofGood” campaigns, respectively.

To mark MEPRA’s 20th anniversary this year, the awards featured a new category of people’s choice for the best Middle East campaign over the last two decades, won by Weber Shandwick MENAT and Environment Agency Abu Dhabi for the “Vote Bu Tinah!” campaign.

Special gongs on the night included the chairman’s lifetime achievement award that went to Jack Pearce of Matrix Public Relations, the small in-house team of the year accolade handed to Mastercard MENA, and the large in-house team of the year prize given to the UAE government’s media office.

Agency titles were awarded to Gambit Communications for best home-grown operation as well as small agency of the year, with Acorn Strategy being crowned large agency of the year.


New Zealand PM says Facebook, others must do more against online hate

Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a global initiative to end online hate in 2019. (File/AFP)
Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a global initiative to end online hate in 2019. (File/AFP)
Updated 26 November 2021

New Zealand PM says Facebook, others must do more against online hate

Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a global initiative to end online hate in 2019. (File/AFP)
  • New Zealand PM said tech giants and world leaders needed to do “much more” to stamp out violent extremism and radicalization online

LONDON: Tech giants like Meta’s Facebook and world leaders needed to do “much more” to stamp out violent extremism and radicalization online, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said on Friday.
Ardern and French President Emmanuel Macron launched a global initiative to end online hate in 2019 after a white supremacist killed 51 people at two mosques in the New Zealand city of Christchurch while live-streaming his rampage on Facebook.
This Christchurch Call initiative has been supported by more than 50 countries, international organizations and tech firms, including Facebook, Google, Twitter and Microsoft.
Ardern said on Friday the initiative had been successful in its first aim of establishing a crisis protocol, including a 24/7 network between platforms to quickly remove content, in response to events like those in Christchurch.
“We have had real world stress-testing of those systems and they have worked very effectively,” Ardern said in an interview for the upcoming Reuters Next conference.
“I am confident that we are operating more effectively than we have before,” she added. “The next challenge though, is to go further again.”
Asked what tech companies should be doing, Ardern replied: “much more.”
Ardern said the next step was to focus on prevention, looking at how people are finding or coming across hateful or terror-motivating content online and perhaps becoming radicalized.
“That’s where we are really interested in the ongoing work around algorithms and the role that we can all play to ensure that online platforms don’t become a place of radicalization,” she said.
A Christchurch Call conference earlier this year was attended by the United States and Britain.


MENA Effie Awards announces 2021 winners

This year’s Most Effective Agency Network title was awarded to FP7 McCann, which bagged the highest number of awards. (Supplied)
This year’s Most Effective Agency Network title was awarded to FP7 McCann, which bagged the highest number of awards. (Supplied)
Updated 25 November 2021

MENA Effie Awards announces 2021 winners

This year’s Most Effective Agency Network title was awarded to FP7 McCann, which bagged the highest number of awards. (Supplied)
  • The 13th edition of the awards program celebrates marketing effectiveness

DUBAI: The MENA Effie Awards, the regional edition of the globally renowned marketing industry honours, announced its 2021 winners at an awards ceremony in Dubai on Nov. 24.

After a brief hiatus in 2020 due to the pandemic, the awards made a comeback this year, recording a 40 percent increase in entries from 2019.

This year’s grand prix went to FP7 McCann Dubai for the “The Bread Exam” campaign for the Lebanese Breast Cancer Foundation. The Most Effective Advertising Agency Office of the Year title was awarded to FP7 McCann Dubai, while Omnicom Group’s PHD Dubai was named Most Effective Media Agency Office of the Year.

This year’s Most Effective Agency Network title was awarded to FP7 McCann, which bagged the highest number of awards by far across its network of agencies, including McCann Health and Momentum.

“Firstly, it was so good to see the industry come together for the first time since the pandemic started. Secondly, this being the pandemic Effies, every piece of work deserved double the applause as it was made amidst terrific stresses and restrictions,” Tahaab Rais, president of SLC and regional head of strategy and truth central at FP7 McCann MENAT, told Arab News.

He added that the record number of awards at this year’s event, as well as securing Most Effective Advertising Agency and Network of the Year for the 8th consecutive year, is “a testament to how if we, collectively and consistently, outthink, outwork and outcare as brands, agencies, and people, you do end up coming out on top all things being equal.”

Luca Allam, CEO of PHD MENA, said: “Delivering marketing effectiveness for our clients is PHD’s priority. For the last few years, PHD has held a proud track record at the Effies. We are courageous enough to make leaps, we are not afraid to creatively push the boundaries, and this award validates this effort. We are thrilled to be consistently delivering growth for our clients through great and innovative work.”

Other winners on the night included Wunderman Thompson, which bagged 13 awards, TBWA\RAAD shone after picking up 11 trophies, and Havas Middle East and the BBDO network both won five awards each.

The full list of winners can be viewed here.