Facebook announced last week that it’s introducing changes that limit the spread of messages in Sri Lanka and Myanmar, where it has come under fire in recent years. It said it was “adding friction” to message forwarding for Messenger users in Sri Lanka so that people could only share a particular message a certain number of times. The limit is currently set to five people, an image (see below) included in the blog post suggests. The change is similar to the one Facebook made to WhatsApp earlier this year to reduce forwarded messages around the world. Facebook said the change “also delivers on user feedback that most people don’t want to receive chain messages”.
In Myanmar, Facebook said it has started to reduce the distribution of content from people who have consistently violated its community standards in the past. It said it will use “learnings” to explore expanding this approach to other markets. “By limiting visibility in this way, we hope to mitigate against the risk of offline harm and violence,” Facebook’s Samidh Chakrabarti, director of product management and civic integrity, and Rosa Birch, director of strategic response, wrote in the blog post. In cases where it identifies individuals or organisations “more directly promote or engage violence,” the company said it would ban those accounts. Facebook said it has also extended its use of AI to recognise posts that may contain graphic violence and comments that are “potentially violent or dehumanising”.
Facebook’s troubles in troubled lands
In early March, Sri Lanka grappled with mob violence directed at its Muslim minority. Hate speech and rumours started to spread like wildfire on social media services, including those operated by Facebook, prompting the government to shut down citizen’s access to social media services on three separate occasions.
And last year, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was criticised for using Myanmar as an example to claim that the company’s internal monitoring system was able to thwart attempts to use its services to incite hatred. Zuckerberg had told Vox that Facebook had successfully rooted out and prevented hate speech in Myanmar through a system that scans chats inside Messenger. However, six organisations in Myanmar rejected this claim in an open letter in which they said that Facebook’s efforts were far from a success, and that the company was not equipped to respond to hate speech in international markets.