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19 Nov 2018

Jennifer Easterday & Hana Ivanhoe, OpenGlobalRights

Commentary: Tech companies’ inability to control fake news exacerbates violent acts

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The exponential growth of the ICT industry has had stark consequences in the form of human lives and livelihoods, usually of the world’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations—calling into question the industry’s “growth at all costs” approach to business... Social media is being weaponized by extremists and inadvertently utilized as a megaphone for amplifying hate speech by everyday people... [E]arlier this year, Sri Lanka again descended into violence as online rumors spurred deadly attacks by members of the Buddhist majority against Muslims... Over the course of three days in March, mobs burned mosques, Muslim homes, and Muslim-owned shops... In response, the government temporarily blocked social media, including Facebook and two other social media platforms Facebook owns, WhatsApp and Instagram.

... Despite repeated early warnings and flags of violent content, Facebook failed to delete offensive posts or take any sort of ameliorative action. It was only after Facebook’s services were blocked, officials said, that the company took notice. Even then, the company’s initial response was limited to the adoption of a voluntary internal policy whereby it would “downrank” false posts and work with third parties to identify posts for eventual removal... While there are a number of initiatives already in place to address human rights practices at ICT companies generally, some fairly robust company-specific CSR and human rights policies at leading ICT companies, and a couple IGO/NGO initiatives looking at best practices for corporate behavior in high-risk settings, we still lack a collaborative initiative tailored specifically to ICT companies doing business in high-risk settings.