Facebook says will curb hate speech as Indian states go to polls

Social media giant says it will ‘decrease the risk of problematic content going viral’ as five states hold assembly elections.

Silhouettes of laptop users are seen next to a screen projection of Facebook logo in this picture illustration taken March 28, 2018
Facebook has been under fire globally for alleged lapses in controlling hate speech [File: Dado Ruvic/Reuters]

Facebook has said it is taking steps to combat hate speech and misinformation in India as the world’s biggest democracy holds months-long multi-phase elections in four states and a federal territory.

“We recognise that there are certain types of content, such as hate speech, that could lead to imminent, offline harm,” the social networking giant said in a blog post dated March 30.

India is Facebook’s biggest market by users. Its WhatsApp chat service is among the most popular in the country, counting about 500 million users alone.

Facebook has been under fire globally for alleged lapses in controlling hate speech.

In the United States, the social media giant put a months-long freeze on political, electoral and social advertisements to crack down on misinformation and abuses around the November 3 presidential elections.

In India, the company’s top lobbyist quit last year after a Wall Street Journal report suggested the way the social media network regulated political content in the country favoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Opposition parties questioned the company’s policy following the report, but the California-based company maintained it “remains committed to be an open and transparent platform”.

Elections in the states of Tamil Nadu, West Bengal, Assam, Kerala and the union territory Puducherry are a test of Modi’s popularity amid a raging protest by farmers against new agricultural laws that have sparked an outcry at home and abroad.

“To decrease the risk of problematic content going viral in these states and potentially inciting violence ahead of or during the election, we will significantly reduce the distribution of content that our proactive detection technology identifies as likely hate speech or violence and incitement,” Facebook said.

The company said it has also designed Election Day reminders to give voters accurate information and encourage them to share it with friends on Facebook and WhatsApp.

Source: Reuters