Editorial

Hate-mongering on social media: Truly independent regulation is the only answer

| Updated on August 19, 2020 Published on August 19, 2020

Considering the rising number of instances where twisted social media posts trigger riots and social exclusion, it is in the best interests of the society that social media regulation go beyond voluntary checks and balances

The latest row over Facebook’s alleged apathy towards taming right-wing hate speech in India, as exposed in a report by an international media organisation, is symptomatic of a larger malady of unregulated information dissemination through social media. It is not for the first time that Facebook, which recently entered a multi-billion dollar partnership with Reliance Jio in India, is getting embroiled in a controversy such as this. In 2018, a Reuters investigation found that Facebook didn’t appropriately moderate hate speech and genocide calls against Myanmar’s Rohingya minorities. From conducting a psychological experiment on users’ emotions to the Cambridge Analytica privacy breach scandal and more, the Mark Zuckerberg-owned platform has been accused of placing business interests over the greater common good — an allegation Facebook, especially Zuckerberg, has always denied. Clearly, the issue is not exclusive to Facebook. Global platform giants such as Google, Twitter, Facebook-owned Instagram and WhatsApp are accused of being biased towards tackling hate speech. Google has been accused of delaying the removal of malicious content even after volunteer groups had reported it to the search giant.

This is a grave situation, considering that social media spreads messages way faster than other forms of mass media. In just one second, nearly 60,000 posts are shared on Facebook across the globe; nearly eight lakh messages are sent across WhatsApp, and almost 70,000 searches are made on Google. Even though these are estimates, the numbers expose the magnitude of the task at hand when it comes to filtering the spread of malicious content. Clearly, this is not a task that can be left to the will of the platform giants. Nor can governments alone do it. This requires collaborative, independent and inclusive regulation that is customised to regional and cultural specifications while adhering to global best practices of content moderation and privacy rights. A good starting point can be the UNESCO’s ‘Guide to Best Practices for the Digital Age’.

Considering the rising number of instances where twisted social media posts trigger riots and social exclusion, it is in the best interests of the society that social media regulation go beyond the voluntary checks and balances that the platforms have put in place. The introduction of privacy regulations such as the EU’s GDPR signalled the fact that self-regulation of the platforms didn’t work in the desired way. However, any regulatory move on social media content should follow globally accepted norms of freedom of speech and impartiality. An ‘independent’ regulator sounds convincing, but can be misused in geographies where the idea of impartiality is tailored to the whims of the ruling regimes. Hence, any attempt towards regulating hate speech on social media should involve all stakeholders — from civil society groups, policymakers, businesses, technologists to representatives of vulnerable groups such as children, ethnic and religious minorities and women — especially in a democracy as diverse as India.

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Published on August 19, 2020
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