Facebook is in news once again for alleged inaction in controlling hate speech, this time in Wisconsin, USA. The Verge on Wednesday reported that Facebook did not take down the page of Kenosha Guard, a “self-described militia” group, which had issued a “call to arms” and hence, violated the company’s community standards, despite it being reported by at least two users.
Background: On Sunday, August 23, Jacob S. Blake, an African-American man in Kenosha, Wisconsin was shot by an officer of the town’s police department. The officer had been dispatched to the location to investigate a domestic disturbance incident. He shot Blake multiple times in the back when the latter tried to enter his vehicle to check on his children.
Consequently, the same day, protests, as part of the larger Black Lives Movement, were held in Kenosha, which are still ongoing. On Tuesday, Kenosha Guard, a self-proclaimed militia group listed an event on its Facebook page, calling for members to arm themselves and “protect their lives and property”. The same night, a 17-year-old male opened fire at a group of protestors, killing two.
Facebook takes down page on Wednesday morning: Facebook took down Kenosha Guard’s group on Wednesday, though it told Verge that it had found no direct links between Kenosha Guard and the shooter. A company representative told the publication it did not find evidence that the suspected shooter followed the group, or was invited on the event it organised. “However, the Kenosha Guard Page and their Event Page violated our new policy addressing militia organizations and have been removed on that basis,” it said. The shooter’s Facebook and Instagram pages have also been taken down.
But Kenosha Guard group was reported earlier, and Facebook ignored it: The Verge reported that at least two users had reported the Kenosha Guard’s event before the protest. Facebook’s moderators reportedly told the users that the event itself was not in violation of its policies, but specific comments could be reported for inciting violence. One of the users said, “I felt [the event] had the possibility to end in violence, and it did.”
Possible delay in enforcing new policy on militia organisations
Facebook said it had shut down the Kenosha Guard page for breaking its expanded policy on militia organisations, which was announced last week. The company had expanded its policy on “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations” policy to include organisations and movements that demonstrate “significant risks to public safety” but don’t qualify to be designated as dangerous organisations. The company said it would allow such groups to use the platform, but restrict their ability to organise on its platform.
CNN Business’s report, a follow-up of the Verge’s coverage, indicated that there was a delay in the enforcement of the new policy in Kenosha Guard’s case. This policy is reportedly enforced by a team of specialists who weren’t called in until seemingly after the shooting. Until then, Facebook’s regular moderation team did not take any action even through users had reported the page. A company spokesperson told CNN Business that the page was taken down “as soon as the specialist team reviewed the page”.
The day the expanded policy was announed, Facebook had taken down over 800 groups related to the far-right, pro-Trump conspiracy theory group QAnon.
Facebook’s troubles with hate speech in India
Facebook is currently under scrutiny over its role in spreading speech and misinformation ahead of the Northeast Delhi riots in February this year. For instance, an AltNews report from last week noted that hate speech targeting Muslims was spread widely on Facebook before the riots, and is yet to be taken down. Post the riots, the Ministry of Home Affairs conducted a meeting with representatives of Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter where they were pulled up for not blocking hate speech and videos flagged by police.
The Delhi Assembly’s Committee for Peace and Harmony, which was formed after the riots, held its first hearing on Tuesday. It chose to focus on Facebook’s content moderation policy, and how its non-enforcement could have played a role in fanning the flames during the riots.
Accusations of political bias: The Delhi government committee had scheduled the hearing only days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook had refused to take down hate speech by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Ankhi Das, who heads the company’s public policy team in India, had reportedly advised against taking down such posts as it would be bad for Facebook’s business prospects in India. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has summoned Facebook representatives on September 2, when the matter is expected to come up.
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