Activists, journos slam Facebook over handling of hate speech, disinformation

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Published on March 26, 2024
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In Bangladesh, a chorus of concern arises among anti-war crimes campaigners, journalists, and activists regarding Facebook's apparent inability to stem the tide of hate speech, calls for violence, and communal attacks that have jeopardized public security.

Despite Facebook's community standards, designed to combat such abuses, numerous accounts indicate these guidelines are routinely ignored in the country.

The problem was highlighted in the lead-up to the national election, with a speech by Tarique Rahman advocating for street-level action to determine the nation's future. This speech, broadly shared via BNP's social media accounts, was flagged by civil society and rights activists as an “explicit call to violence.”

The post-election period saw no improvement, as a surge of unfiltered disinformation on Facebook blatantly breached the platform's community standards. According to Ranjan Karmakar, a human rights activist and prominent member of the Bangladesh Hindu Buddhist Christian Unity Council, the rise of Facebook users since 2010 has directly correlated with the spread of hatred and rumours preceding major communal attacks, yet effective countermeasures remain absent.

The issue is compounded by the “questionable integrity” of local fact-checkers, with some minority community members, including those from the persecuted Ahmadiyya community, accusing Facebook of failing to protect minority groups. "The stated objective of Facebook to keep the platform safe failed miserably in the case of minorities, and this should not be allowed to continue," stated an Ahmadiyya community member, highlighting the broader implications of Facebook's policy failures.

Senior journalist and former news editor at Bangla Vision, Chapal Bashar, criticized the double standards of some fact-checkers, suggesting a broader issue with the platform's enforcement of its policies. Additionally, family members of martyred intellectuals have reported facing restrictions on Facebook when trying to share content about the war-time atrocities committed by the Pakistan army and their local collaborators in 1971.

Tonmoy Ahmed, an anti-war crimes campaigner and Awami League's web team coordinator, who survived a brutal attack by Shibir activists in 2013, shared his long-term observations of the platform. "As an active Facebook user for over a decade, I have noticed a biased approach from the authorities. Those who instigate violence often go unflagged, which clearly violates policy guidelines. Furthermore, exposing hate campaigners and militants recruiting youths on Facebook, and upholding democratic ideals and societal values, are growing increasingly difficult."

This collective outcry underscores the urgent need for Facebook to reassess its policies and enforcement mechanisms in Bangladesh, ensuring that the platform does not become a conduit for hate speech and violence but rather a space for safe, constructive dialogue.