‘Islamophobia dominates Indian hate speech’: Equality Labs report on Facebook India

Written by Sabrangindia | Published on: June 18, 2019
India has become the largest market for Facebook with almost 300 million active users. It is also pertinent to note that Facebook India has an unprecedented growth potential of over 400%, thereby making India the future of Facebook. While Facebook’s gargantuan influence is unstoppable and being a platform for the otherwise voiceless undeniable, the cause of concern is the increasing use of the social media giant as a central avenue for hate mongering and violence.



Equality Labs, a South Asian American human rights and technology start-up, has provided evidence and raised alarm on Facebook India’s lackadaisical response to violations of its community standards in its report “Facebook India: Towards the tipping point in violence, caste and religious hate speech.” It has also thrown light on the role of Facebook India as a soapbox for hate mongering, communal violence, fake news among other things. The report also recommends an independent human rights audit of its content and proactive steps to curb the online hate speech that can quickly erupt into severe violence. The report reveals some really perturbing trends relating to huge volumes of direct hate speech, disinformation and calls to violence against Indian caste, religious and gender/queer minorities as well as the freepress.

Key findings:
  • Islamophobia dominates Indian hate speech:
As per the report, 37% of the hate speech is about Islamophobia followed by fake news (16%) and the least is about anti-religious minorities (9%). The following graph gives a glimpse about the composition of hate speech on Facebook India from 2014 to 2019.


 
  • Attack on Muslims in Ayodhya tops the Islamophobic content:
The massacre of Muslims in the Ayodhya incident is a black day in India's history. While the bitter memories continue to haunt us, Facebook India has become a platform for instigating violence through posts of anti-Muslim attacks in Ayodhya.



Out of the 37% Islamophobic hate speech, 10% is about anti-Muslim attack in Ayodhya, 6% content is on anti-Rohingyas, calling for violence against them and is similar to the content that led to the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar. Also, 5% hate speech is related to ‘Love Jihad.’


 
  • Anti-Reservation posts highest in hate speeches related to Casteism:
13% of the hate speech on Facebook India is related to casteism. Notably, 40% of such posts are against affirmative action in India i.e. Reservations for the minorities.


 
  • Transphobia is all pervasive:
Despite the Supreme Court decriminalizing section 377 in 2018, it seems that the masses have not yet accepted the verdict and it is a long journey before the sexual minorities receive social acceptance. Of the 13% gender/sexuality hate speech, 25% is related to transphobia/queerphobia. Further, 12% of the hate speech posts under this category calls for violence or glorifies or trivializes rape.


 
  • Anti-Christian posts are the highest:
Under the category of hate speech against religious minorities, which forms 9% of the total hate speech, 60% are anti-Christian posts while 25% are anti-Buddhists.


 
  • 50% misinformation on Facebook:
In this era of fake news where social media is constantly being used to mislead the masses, Facebook India contributes 16% of such false news. Strikingly, 50% of this is misinformation about current events. Further, while there have been repeated attempts by the state as well as the central government to change the Indian history and glorify one particular religion, 20% of the fake news on Facebook India is about false South Asian history.


 
  • More than 48 hours taken for response to hate speech complaint:
While Facebook claims that it responds within 24 hours of receiving a complaint related to hate speech, the Equality Labs report has found the median time of response by Facebook India to be 48 hours.
 
  • 93% of reported posts remain while 100% Islamophobic hate speech gets restored:
While the response time by Facebook India on the complaints is slow, what is more disturbing is that 93% of all hate speech posts reported to Facebook remain on Facebook.



Further, 43% of all initially removed posts were found to have been restored after an average period of 90 days from the date of reporting. Alarmingly, 100% of all restored posts were Islamophobic posts.


 
  • Accounts of whistleblowers banned/disabled:
While hate speech almost completely remains or is reinstated by moderators on Facebook, an increasing number of minority user accounts are being banned or removed entirely.



Caravan Daily wrote that in a ten day period, Facebook disabled personal accounts of more than a dozen leading journalists in India without any warning or notice and without offering any credible reasons. This includes editors of BoltaHindustan.com, Mumtaz Alam, Editor of Caravan Daily, Syed Ghazanfar Abbas, National Correspondent of Caravan Daily. Ajay Prakash (News Editor, Dainik Bhaskar), Prerna Negi (Editor, Janjwar.com), Rifat Jawaid (Editor, JanataKaRepoter.com and former Editor of BBC) and Aijaz Zaka Syed, an award-winning Indian journalist and columnist based in the Gulf and former Opinion editor, Khaleej Times. Syed has also been associated with Caravan Daily as a columnist.

Also, accounts of prominent Dalit Bahujan news outlets and pages like National Dastak and Ambedkar’s Caravan, those of Kashmiri activists and press outlets like Freepress Kashmir were taken down.
 
  • Unsatisfactory Community Standards:
While Facebook India has performed very poorly when it comes to taking action against hate speech and hate mongers and seems to increasingly become a platform for communal polarisation, one major loophole in its reporting mechanism is the unavailability of its community standards in major Indian languages. This makes it very difficult for the minorities to report the oppression that they face on Facebook. Also, the report reveals that there is no consistent reporting mechanism.





Conclusion:
All in all, it appears that Facebook India has become a political tool for spreading one particular ideology and resorting to hate mongering for wiping out the minorities and further other them. It has become like a toothless watchdog allowing gross violations of its own community standards thereby creating a breeding ground for violence and revenge. To give a reference, popular right-wing Hindutva activists like Harsh Chikkara, Deepak Sharma, etc have used Facebook to instigate the public, like in the recent Aligarh rape case where the accused are Muslims. CJP has been constantly fighting and monitoring hate on Facebook. Last year, CJP approached the NHRC and Facebook to report the hateful content posted by Hindutva activist Deepak Sharma that got his account banned.

Whether this insouciant behaviour is a path that is chosen by Facebook India or is the result of political pressure is yet unknown. However, this is having a widespread impact on the harmony and peace, nationally as well as internationally.

The Equality Labs report rightly says, “The situation is grave enough that we must see an overhaul of these processes—nothing less than the integrity of India, the world’s largest democracy, is at stake.”

The entire report can be read here.



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