Facebook Promoting Real-life Violence: men caught in algorithm -Imran Nazir


People bored and depressed with the monotonous representation of news in conventional media found social media as a revolutionary vehicle to get instant news and make news by themselves. It has been believed that social media is helping to promote the freedom of expression specially where there is limited avenue to express own thoughts due to governments’ restriction or fear. All went well but recent overview of violence, especially in developing countries, shows that social media’s rampant use has been linked with creating instability and violence through spreading misinformation, fake news and hate speech. This debacle queers the credibility of social media promoting peace, freedom of expression and amalgamation.

Facebook has become the single most prominent social media giant in the recent years gathering billions of people around the world. It has become a global public place where debate and discussion in many local, national and international issues are taking place and being shaped here. Obviously, all the contents and concepts spreading on Facebook is not meaningful. In few cases, Facebook provided itself as a tool promoting exclusion, hate and extremism in recent times. Facebook has been functioning based on the algorithms which facilitate communication among users. Meaningful Social Interaction (MSI) is used in Facebook to engage users with the most viewed contents, regardless of their genre, trending on its platform. So, users automatically get to see those contents whether they are interested or not in them. In the absence of humanistic value judgment, any content whether peace promoting or violence inciting can be spread. It has been experienced that Facebook amplifies fake news, misinformation and hate speech and resulted in real violence against minorities around the world.

Facebook spreading violence and instability in the developing regions has been a well-established claim. Violence against Rohingya community in Myanmar has a direct link with using Facebook to harbor a long-term defamatory propaganda by military juntas. For years, military personnel have been carefully spreading hate speech against Rohingy as portraying them as terrorist who is a national threat to the integrity of Myanmar. This has also cultivated mistrust among other communities about them. It has also paved the way for Myanmar military to execute their heinous crackdown against this minority group. Similar event has been taken place in Ethiopia, a country besetting with high profile in internal violence, where internal groups use Facebook as a platform to spread their violent agenda and recruit soldiers (children are also attracted)for battling against opposite groups.

Situation in India is more acute where political and religious tension remains hyper as always. Misinformation and hate speech spread like flood there and any little sentimental issue may result ineruption like a volcano taking many lives within day. Role of Facebook in fueling communal vandalism has been acknowledged there. In fact, various political groups, not to mention BJP and affiliates, have been using Facebook to spread hatred against Muslim minority communities around India. Blasphemy words, hate speech and distorted photography have been used during Delhi riots back in 2020 where at least 52 people were killed. Role of Facebook moderating violent contents has seen utter failure in these cases. What is most dangerous is the recent testimony of a Facebook ex-employee in Senate subcommittee recently.

Couple of years back, Facebook had been accused of exporting users’ data to third parties. And recently a Facebook employee, Frances Haugen, has revealed few dangerous internal truths which indicate Facebook authority’s clumsy role moderating conflict and prioritizing growth over human cost.
Haugen notes the critical role of Facebook as,” tearing apart our democracy and putting our children in danger and sewing ethnic violence around the world.” She has also revealed the internal awareness among Facebook officials regarding their negative role in promoting violence through algorithms which spread misinformation and hate speech at a faster rate. It has been seen that Facebook’s fact-check mechanism has been also inadequate to curb violence and instability as Artificial Intelligence (AI) has not that capability currently to detect bad contents. Even Facebook’s ethical standards have shown inconsistency in few cases. Taking the example of India during 2020 Delhi riots, Facebook authority did not remove Islam-phobic contents from its platform despite being aware of its brutal consequence on Muslims. This inaction also indicates how Facebook prefers its growth, removing anti-Muslim contents may cause in boycotting Facebook from Hindu majority, over human cause and peace. Facebook has also been failed in moderating the spread of hate speech against Rohingyas in Myanmar. Once internally Facebook employees suggested to remove ‘Meaningful Social Interaction’ system, which is responsible for engaging close persons with similar contents,in volatile countries. But Zuckerberg thought it would halt the growth of Facebook. Notably India provides 340 million users which is the highest share of a single country. So, Facebook is not even willing to take any strong measure in preventing the spread of false news or hate speech on its platform even it costs lives or breakdown of democracy.

A report published in 2020 has revealed that Facebook has invested its 84% of share in monitoring contents in North America from the total allocation for content moderation. So, it is revealing that how inadequate the total investment is invested disproportionately as developing countries are the major source of conflict and instability due to social media. All of Facebook’s actions indicate a total irresponsibility. Even many countries, especially USA and European Union, are moving to restrictive measures against Facebook’s algorithmic system. So, a meaningful restrictive measure is becoming an inevitable reality around the world to preserve peace and stability. However, we should not use this as an excuse to suppress the freedom of speech as examples indicate that social media like Facebook has provided empowerment for many backward communities socially and economically. In sum, we must find a way between order and justice for the betterment of human beings living on this earth.

Author of this article is a student of the University of Dhaka.