ECONOMYNEXT- Facebook will be limiting the number of people a Sri Lanka-based user can forward messages to on the social media platform and is improving its artificial intelligence (AI) to flag posts in Sinhalese to combat hate speech, the firm said.
"We’re making fundamental changes to our products to address virality and reduce the spread of content that can amplify and exacerbate violence and conflict," Product Management, Civic Integrity Director Samidh Chakrabarti and Strategic Response Director Rosa Birch said in a statement.
"In Sri Lanka, we have explored adding friction to message forwarding so that people can only share a message with a certain number of chat threads on Facebook Messenger," they said.
Facebook has now limited forwarding messages to five persons, similar to a function introduced on its messaging platform Whatsapp earlier in 2019.
Facebook is also improving its AI, so that posts in local languages such as Sinhalese can be better scanned for hate speech.
"Hate speech isn’t allowed under our Community Standards."
"As we shared last year, removing this content requires supplementing user reports with AI that can proactively flag potentially violating posts."
"We’re continuing to improve our detection in local languages such as Arabic, Burmese, Tagalog, Vietnamese, Bengali and Sinhalese."
In Sri Lanka, social media was blocked in 2018 following communal riots between Sinhalese and Muslims in the Central Province town of Digana.
The government had complained
that violence escalated due to messages and posts shared on Whatsapp and Facebook, and the firm had not removed offensive content fast enough.
Facebook's recognition capability of hate speech in the Sinhalese language had been poor, with some users being told that hate speech they complained about had not violated Facebook community standards.
The Sinhalese extremist leader Amith Weerasinghe who was arrested following the riots had managed a Facebook page with over 150,000 followers, which was taken down only after the violence began.
After the Easter Sunday attack in April 2019 by radical extremist Islamists, the government blocked social media several times to combat hate speech and misinformation.
In retaliation to the bombings, Sinhalese mobs targeted Muslim businesses and mosques, especially in the North Western Province.
Even the Easter Sunday attackers had preached extremism and hate speech on Facebook leading up to the bombings, which killed over 250 persons, and wounded over 500.
Facebook said it is introducing the new measures after making a country visit.
"In the last year, we visited countries such as Lebanon, Cameroon, Nigeria, Myanmar, and Sri Lanka to speak with affected communities in these countries, better understand how they use Facebook, and evaluate what types of content might promote depolarization in these environments."
Facebook said that Sri Lankans are also using Facebook features positively, and this will be further promoted.
"In the wake of the horrific terrorist attacks in Sri Lanka, more than a quarter million people used Facebook’s Safety Check to mark themselves as safe and reassure loved ones."
"In the same vein, thousands of people in Sri Lanka used our crisis response tools to make offers and requests for help."
"These use cases — the good, the meaningful, the consequential — are ones that we want to preserve." (Colombo/Jun24/2019)