Facebook releases findings of independent human rights impact assessments of the role of its services in Sri Lanka, Indonesia & Cambodia

Facebook has released the findings of three independent human rights impact assessments it commissioned in 2018 that examined the degree to which its platforms did or did not contribute to adverse human rights impacts in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia, along with details on how the company has responded to the recommendations. The assessments, two by Article One and one by BSR, contain numerous recommendations for Facebook, including but not limited to:

  • Improving its corporate accountability around human rights 
  • Updating its Community Standards and improving enforcement 
  • Investing in changes to platform architecture to promote authoritative information and reduce the spread of abusive content 
  • Improving reporting mechanisms and response times 
  • Engaging more regularly and substantively with civil society organizations 
  • Increasing transparency so that people better understand our approach to content, misinformation and News Feed ranking
  • Continuing human rights due diligence
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12 May 2020

An update on Facebook's human rights work in Asia and around the world

Author: Miranda Sissons & Alex Warofka, Facebook

[W]e’re releasing the findings of three independent human rights impact assessments we commissioned in 2018 to evaluate the role of our services in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia, along with details on how we’ve responded to the recommendations in each assessment. The assessments build on the work we’ve done over the last two years, beginning with creation of a human rights team to inform our policies, products, programs and partnerships around the world... We have committed to expanding end-to-end encryption... we updated the values that underpin our Community Standards to specifically reference human rights principles... We increased staffing significantly, hiring policy leads and program managers in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia, and expanding the number of content reviewers who speak Sinhala, Tamil, Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese and Khmer.

... The assessments we’re releasing today underscore the role our services play in providing voice to people, promoting civic and political engagement, and shining a light on human rights issues and abuse, especially in places where activists, human rights defenders and vulnerable communities don’t otherwise have a platform... They also highlight the threats to people’s rights and encourage us to respond more resolutely. We accept this responsibility, and acknowledge the human rights impacts outlined in these reports.

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12 May 2020

Assessing the human rights impact of Facebook's platforms in Indonesia

Author: Article One

... Article One’s assessment found that Facebook’s response was slow and, at times, insufficient – potentially exacerbating impacts. Indeed, Facebook’s lack of formal human rights due diligence in Indonesia before this assessment in December 2018 and its slow response to concerns from civil society organizations may have contributed to adverse human rights impacts. This was potentially exacerbated by now phased out algorithms designed to drive engagement on the platform, regardless of the veracity or intention of the content.

Recommendations [include and are not limited to]:

  • Explore opportunities for remediation, including for example a public apology for impacts the company may have contributed to...
  • Develop processes to apply cultural context to content moderation...
  • Assess the ability and risks associated with raising awareness of Indonesia’s defamation and blasphemy laws...
  • Increase due diligence efforts in advance of elections...
  • Expand country-level HRIAs to other at-risk countries...
  • Develop AI to predict when online hate speech and misinformation may trigger offline unrest and violence...
  • Provide users with the ability to opt out of Facebook-driven curation through an easily accessible function on the platform...
  • Engage in industry and multi-stakeholder forums to share lessons learned on combating misinformation, disinformation and online harassment

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12 May 2020

Assessing the human rights impact of the Facebook platform in Sri Lanka

Author: Article One

Article One repeatedly heard that Facebook had played a powerful role when it came to free expression and civic engagement... Despite frequent public criticism... the majority of stakeholders engaged, including Sri Lanka-based human rights advocates, defended the platform and argued that its value to the country—if managed appropriately—was significant... 

... One major source of salient human rights risk... is the spread of rumors and hate speech to incite violence against Muslim minorities... Article One’s assessment showed that the Facebook platform contributed to spreading rumors and hate speech, which may have led to “offline” violence... Facebook’s platform was used for gender-based hate speech and harassment..., non-consensual sharing of images in public..., and non-consensual sharing of intimate images... The Facebook platform simultaneously provides a safe space in which LGBTQ+ individuals can communicate and organize... and also a space in which anti-LGBTQ+ hate groups can form and spread viral and vicious campaigns... The... platform has been a powerful tool for activism, but aspects of its use present ongoing risks to human rights defenders who may face harassment and surveillance of their online activity...

... Facebook’s lack of formal human rights due diligence in Sri Lanka prior to this HRIA and the limited cultural and language expertise among Facebook staff at the time of the May 2018 Kandy incident may have contributed to offline harm stemming from online engagement... [T]he majority of civil society organizations engaged by Article One stated that they had tried to engage Facebook regarding the misuse of its platform... Article One repeatedly heard allegations that Facebook did not respond to these calls promptly, and that the company was largely unresponsive until the government shut down of social media in March of 2018.

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12 May 2020

Human rights impact assessment: Facebook in Cambodia

Author: Business for Social Responsibility (BSR)

Facebook commissioned BSR to undertake a human rights impact assessment (HRIA) of the company’s presence in Cambodia... The Cambodian legal, social, and political context is challenging for Facebook. As described in independent human rights reports, recent legislative reform has negatively impacted freedom of expression, the free press has been systematically dismantled and elections are not free or fair. Civic space and political freedoms are actively being constrained, and there is a trend towards the use of social media content as evidence in court cases... Facebook in Cambodia is generally recognized by in-country stakeholders to be an important space for freedom of information and expression, political participation, and government accountability... 

... [A]ctual and potential human rights impacts [include]: security,... privacy,... freedom of expression, assembly, and association,... non-discrimination,... child rights,... standard of living,... access to culture... Recommendations [include]: 

  • Develop and implement a Facebook policy setting out the circumstances in which it will voice an opinion on so-called “Facebook arrests”.

  • Take a public position on the legal and regulatory framework in Cambodia as it relates to social media platforms.

  • Make public statements about the government’s surveillance and law enforcement capabilities that demystify this issue for users.

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12 May 2020

Sri Lanka: Facebook “deplores” misuse of its platform & apologises for contributing to fear & violence in 2018, incl. company comments

Author: Daily Mirror

"FB apologizes for role in Sri Lankan violence", 13 May 2020

Facebook Inc.’s lack of a serious response to signs of abuse on its platform in Sri Lanka may have helped stoke deadly violence in the country in 2018, according to an investigation of the social network’s operations there.

The company released a summary of the findings...along with other independent assessments of the service’s impact on human rights in Indonesia and Cambodia. 

“We deplore this misuse of our platform,” the company said in a response to the Sri Lanka report. “We recognize, and apologize for, the very real human rights impacts that resulted.” Facebook also highlighted actions it has taken to address the problems, including hiring content moderators with local language skills, implementing technology that automatically detects signs of hate speech and keeps abusive content from spreading, and trying to deepen relationships with local civil society groups.

The report on Sri Lanka details Facebook’s failure to respond to almost a decade of warnings about misuse of its platform from groups within the country. In 2018, a viral video falsely purporting to show a Muslim restaurateur admitting to mixing “sterilization pills” into the food of Sinhala-Buddhist men may have contributed to unrest and physical harm.

Facebook’s poor track record on human rights in international markets has been a black mark on the company for years... 

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