Assembly elections: Facebook to curb hate speech in India

Updated on Apr 01, 2021 03:30 AM IST

It cited experiences from the earlier elections and added Facebook is now taking steps to enhance civic engagement, combat hate speech, limit misinformation, and remove voter suppression

Representational Image. (File photo)
Representational Image. (File photo)
ByHT Correspondent | Edited by Sameer, New Delhi

Facebook on Wednesday announced its plans to remove any content found to be in violation of the policy it has formulated to check hate speech in view of elections in four states and the Union Territory of Puducherry. It cited experiences from the earlier elections and added Facebook is now taking steps to enhance civic engagement, combat hate speech, limit misinformation, and remove voter suppression.

The first phases of staggered elections in West Bengal and Assam were held on March 27. Kerala, Tamil Nadu, and Puducherry will go to the polls on April 6. The election results will be declared on May 2 following the conclusion of the remaining seven-phase polls in West Bengal and two more rounds of polling in Assam.

Facebook, which counts India as its biggest market with 400 million users, said it has invested in a proactive technology to detect and reduce the distribution of content in violation of the policy. It added the social media firm is also deploying technology to identify new words associated with hate speech.

The company has also pledged to reduce the distribution of content from the accounts found to have repeatedly violated its policies. It added it has partnered with eight third-party fact-checking organisations to tackle misinformation during elections.

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The fact-checkers will provide people with additional context about the content they see on Facebook including in Bengali, Tamil, Malayalam, and Assamese, the main languages of the regions where elections are being held.

According to its policy, any content offering to buy or sell votes in exchange for cash or kind will be removed. Additionally, it will also remove explicit claims such as “you will contract Covid-19” if you vote or “do not go to vote as everyone will get the disease”.

“Facebook recognises its role in creating an informed society. Thus, it will also be reminding people to exercise their right to vote. Facebook has come up with Election Day reminders in order to give voters accurate information and encourage voters,” the company said in a blogpost.

The firm also plans public education campaigns and digital literacy training to stop the spread of misinformation.

Facebook has been under fire for allowing hate speech. The opposition Congress in August last year sought a parliamentary panel probe into Facebook’s alleged favourable treatment to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). This came following a report in the Wall Street Journal that said Facebook and WhatsApp had refused to bar a BJP lawmaker even as he wrote hateful posts. This was allegedly done to protect social media company’s “commercial interests”.

Twitter too introduced new guidelines last week to contain the spread of false news. It shared tips for users to ensure that they are getting accurate information.

Both social media intermediaries have also signed a voluntary code of ethics with the Election Commission to help in ensuring free and fair polls.

The government in February introduced new rules to regulate social media content and making companies like Facebook more accountable to requests for quick removal of posts and details on their sources.

(With inputs from Malavika PM)

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