Get Facebook to cut hate speech, Samantha Power tells Sri Lanka

ECONOMYNEXT – Former United States diplomat Samantha Power has urged Sri Lanka to get Facebook to crackdown on hate speech, partly thought to have fuelled anti-Muslim violence last year, and called for greater global regulation and fines on social media.

“Governments like yours  . . . are going to have to insist that Facebook uphold its ‘Community Standards’ for all of Sri Lanka’s national languages, or face serious repercussions,” she said.

“It is simply not acceptable that Facebook has not invested more in equipping itself to monitor posts in languages like Tamil or Sinhala.”

Power, former U.S. Permanent Representative to the United Nations, said a platform with this much influence and reach cannot get by just doing the bare minimum.

“Facebook needs to be far more transparent, so that experts and civil society can guide the company in how to do better in the context of the unique challenges Sri Lanka faces,” she said, referring to anti-Muslim violence last year, after hate speech and conspiracy theories about Muslims disseminated on social media.

Her remarks were made at a forum to mark 30 years in politics of Finance Minister Mangala Samaraweera, a former Minister of Post and Telecommunications, who spearheaded the privatisation of Sri Lanka’s telecommunications industry.

Today, Sri Lanka has one of the highest numbers of phones per person in all of Asia, with the country of 21 million having 34 million cell phone subscriptions. Some six million people regularly use Facebook.

Power said Samaraweera was one of the first political leaders to take to Twitter during the crisis to condemn the hate speech, sending a clear message of zero tolerance for politicians and others who incited racial violence.

“In societies like ours – with mixed ethnicities and religions, with free speech and extreme voices – we ignore this reality at our peril,” she said.

Power said rapid advances in fields from social media to AI to automation are posing profound risks to democracies.





“These tools are going to be decisive in global development going forward, but governments must confront their dark uses as well as their boundless possibilities,” she said.

“I believe we need to dramatically increase our scrutiny of the effects of new technologies.  . . . these platforms also have potentially deadly impact when it comes to the rights and well-being of marginalized groups,” Power said.

“When it comes to companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google, which failed for too long to grapple with the dangerous uses and effects of their products, it does now finally seem that they are seized with the abuses that their platforms have enabled.

“But these companies need to prioritize contributing to the health of democracy as a goal, right alongside making yet more money.

 Power said she was encouraged to hear that Facebook has committed to serving up to 20,000 Sri Lankan children in a digital literacy program to be run this year, and that they are participating in the government’s MART Social Circles initiative, to prepare people to better discern fake news.

“In my country, I would like lawmakers and policy leaders to think about a number of approaches:, (such as) instituting regulations and heavy fines for failing to remove hate speech.”

Power also said governments should greatly restrict the ability of advertisers (or nation states disguised as such) to micro-target users with messages designed to mislead and enrage.

She also advocated re-thinking the type of anonymity afforded to users so as to cut down on the spreading of lies with impunity.

“And probing seriously whether some of these tech monopolies have become so dangerously big – and so dangerous to open society – that they need to be broken up.”

(COLOMBO, March 01, 2019-SB)

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