By Nishel Fernando
Facebook has significantly increased its investments to ramp up Sinhala and Tamil language expertise targeting to curb hate speech and other harmful contents originating from Sri Lanka on the social media platform.
“We have invested heavily on Sinhala and Tamil language expertises as we have promised. We significantly ramped up our language expertise in Sri Lanka through hiring more experts after the Digana riots,” a Facebook spokesperson told reporters in Colombo yesterday.
He noted that their public policy team members in Sri Lanka have worked closely with the global team in providing additional context to curb hate speech on the platform.
According to Facebook’s latest community standards enforcement report, the social media platform removed four million pieces of hate speech globally from the platform in the first quarter of the year.
It stated that improvements and expansion of its proactive detection allowed Facebook to increase the amount of content it detected from 3.3 million in 4Q 2018 to four million in 1Q 2019.
The spokesperson highlighted that 65.4 percent of hate speech content was removed by its proactive detection tools, compared to 51.5 percent in 3Q18, which is a significant improvement.
“We have invested in proactive detection tools; AI tools become stronger over last few years,” he said.
However, as hate speech is highly contextual, the official noted that Facebook has to rely more on the community to report such content.
Facebook is in the process of developing a global metric while expanding prevalence measurement to cover more languages and regions, to account for cultural context and nuances for individual languages.
A team of Facebook officials also hosted its second community standard forum in Sri Lanka on Tuesday with civil society leaders and experts.
Facebook has deployed a team of 30,000 to work on safety and security issues of its users globally, of which over 15,000 have been deployed to look into content-specific issues.
Under its community standards, the social media platform removes hate speech, which includes content that directly attacks people based on their race, religion, national origin, gender identity, caste, sex, ethnicity, serious disability and sexual orientation.
However, Facebook doesn’t regard the ideas that challenge institutions and practices as hate speech, ensuring the right for freedom of speech on the platform.
According to some reports, there were nearly six million Facebook users in Sri Lanka as of last year and there was also a significant number of fake profiles originating from Sri Lanka, which are mainly used to circulate harmful content.
During the first quarter of this year, Facebook has removed 2.2 billion fake accounts globally.
Facebook denies banning pages purely based on requests from governments
The Facebook officials responsible for emerging markets yesterday denied restricting content and profiles or pages on the platform, purely based on the requests made by governments, while stressing that it adheres to the highest norms of international standards in processing such requests.
“We are very transparent in how we engage with governments and law enforcement agencies around the world. We have the same standardised process for all government and law enforcement agencies across the world.
The process adheres to the highest norms of international standards and it also adheres to our own commitments to human rights organisations and alliances,” a Facebook spokesperson affirmed.
He noted that the government could make such requests for information or removal of content from the platform through a legally empowered agency, such as the Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT).
“If a person repeatedly violates our policies, depending on the severity of violations, we would remove that page or profile. Because we don’t want to create bad sour apples on the platform,” he added.
However, he said that Facebook sends a notification to that person informing that they have violated the Facebook polices, providing an opportunity to appeal.
“If they disagree with us, they can appeal to us. If they choose to appeal, it will go to an independent team for a second review. If that committee agrees on the violations, the profile or page won’t be restored, otherwise it will be restored with an apology,” he elaborated.
Popular local musician Iraj Weeraratne recently alleged that his anti-government sentiments had led to the suspension of the page, which had over 1.1 million followers.
The official noted that Facebook has only complied with 40 percent of the requests made by the Sri Lankan government in the recent past.
He noted that theses requests were assessed by its in-house legal experts as well as local legal experts.
“Once we get that assessment, if that violates the local policy but doesn’t violate our global community standards, we will restrict the availability of the content in the specific jurisdiction,” he said.