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12 May 2020

Article One

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

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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.