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India Journalism

Facebook Is Stifling Independent Report on Its Impact in India, Human Rights Groups Say

That’s the headline on my most recent story, an exclusive out November 12. It begins:

Human rights groups say Facebook is stifling an independent report it commissioned to investigate hate speech on its services in India, the company’s largest market by customers and where scrutiny of its operations is increasing.

Representatives for the organizations say they have provided extensive input to a U.S. law firm that Facebook commissioned in mid-2020 to undertake the report. The groups say they supplied hundreds of examples of inflammatory content and suggested ways Facebook could better police its services in India.

Facebook executives from the company’s human rights team, which is overseeing the law firm’s effort, have since narrowed the draft report’s scope and are delaying a process that has already taken more than a year, the groups say.

“They are trying to kill it,” said Ratik Asokan of India Civil Watch International, one of the organizations that provided the law firm with input. Mr. Asokan said that Facebook has raised technical objections through the law firm that have caused delays, such as changing definitions of what can be considered hate speech and included in the report, undermining what Facebook said would be an independent study. The law firm hasn’t provided a timeline for completing it, he said.

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India Journalism

Facebook Faces Official Questions in India Over Policing of Hate Speech

That’s the headline on my most recent story, with my colleague Rajesh Roy. It begins:

NEW DELHI–India’s government has asked Facebook Inc. for details about how it monitors and removes inflammatory content on its platform in the country, according to government officials.

The Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology wrote to Facebook’s top executive in India this week, the officials said. The letter follows news reports including a Wall Street Journal article Saturday that said Facebook researchers had determined the company’s services are rife with inflammatory content in India, much of it anti-Muslim.

Based on the response from Facebook, the government will decide if it needs to seek more information, one of the officials said, adding that the present information sought was a preliminary inquiry.

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Journalism

Facebook Services Are Used to Spread Religious Hatred in India, Internal Documents Show

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, out Saturday as part of our Facebook Files series.

It begins:

Mark Zuckerberg praised India in December as a special and important country for Facebook Inc., saying that millions of people there use its platforms every day to stay in touch with family and friends. Internally, researchers were painting a different picture: Facebook’s products in India were awash with inflammatory content that one report linked to deadly religious riots.

Inflammatory content on Facebook spiked 300% above previous levels at times during the months following December 2019, a period in which religious protests swept India, researchers wrote in a July 2020 report that was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

Rumors and calls to violence spread particularly on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service in late February 2020, when communal violence in Delhi left 53 dead, according to the report. India is Facebook’s biggest market with hundreds of millions of users.

Hindu and Muslim users in India say they are subjected to “a large amount of content that encourages conflict, hatred and violence on Facebook and WhatsApp,” such as material blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid-19 and assertions that Muslim men are targeting Hindu women for marriage as a “form of Muslim takeover” of the country, the researchers found.

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You can find all of our Facebook Files pieces in one place on the WSJ website here. And our podcasts from the series are all here.

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Journalism Newley's Notes

NN277: The Facebook Files — Follow Up

Sent as an email newsletter Sunday, October 10, 2021. Want in? Join my email list.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Image of the week, above: Frances Haugen, the Facebook whistleblower, testified before Congress Tuesday.

So: A lot has happened since my last dispatch, on September 22, which I sent after the initial batch of stories in our Facebook Files series ran.

I wanted to devote this edition of Newley’s Notes to share some notable developments since then, though you may have seen several. Here goes, in roughly chronological order:

1) 📸 Instagram said it is pausing its project for kids.

2) 🗞 Facebook argued that we mischaracterized its internal findings in our Instagram article; we published several of the documents that formed the basis of that piece.

3) 📱 My colleagues Georgia Wells and Jeff Horwitz published another piece in the series. The headline: Facebook’s Effort to Attract Preteens Goes Beyond Instagram Kids, Documents Show.

4) 👉 Members of a Senate panel grilled Facebook’s global head of safety, Antigone Davis.

5) 📺 Then Haugen appeared on “60 Minutes.” Worth a watch, if you haven’t seen the segment.

6) ✍️ And don’t miss Jeff’s profile of Haugen.

7) 🎧 Also excellent: Haugen on The Journal podcast.

8) 🗣 Another good podcast: Jeff speaks with CNN’s Brian Stelter, on Reliable Sources, about how he first met Haugen and the stories came about.

9) 🏢 We ran another piece in the Facebook Files series. The hed: Is Sheryl Sandberg’s Power Shrinking? Ten Years of Facebook Data Offers Clues.

10) 👏 And finally, a lighthearted moment: On “The Late Show,” Stephen Colbert joked about Jeff sporting a headband during TV interviews.

•••

Normal editions of NN will resume soon!

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Journalism Newley's Notes

NN276: The Facebook Files

Sent as an email newsletter Wednesday, September 22, 2021. Want in? Join my email list.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes.

I missed sending NN out last Sunday, as I usually do. This will be a shortened, dog-video-less version, sent in the middle of the week. But I wanted to highlight some reporting I’m really proud of.

👉 Image of the week, number one, above: The Facebook Files, a WSJ series we published last week.

WSJ Facebook Files page one

🗞 And image number two: The front page of last Friday’s WSJ, featuring a piece I wrote with my colleagues Justin Scheck and Jeff Horwitz for the series. It went online Thursday.

The headline of our story: Facebook Employees Flag Drug Cartels and Human Traffickers. The Company’s Response Is Weak, Documents Show.

Click through to read the story; you don’t have to be a WSJ subscriber to read it.

🎧 And there’s an accompanying podcast with additional material.

The series, which began on Monday, Sept. 13 and contained contributions from a team of us at the Journal, has already had a sizable impact.

My outstanding colleague Jeff, who covers Facebook and has led our reporting, has also done several media appearances to discuss the series. Here he is on CNN, CNBC, and NPR, among others.

⭐ Here are links to the rest of the stories in the series (again, these links are non-paywalled), each containing unique revelations about how the world’s largest social network operates:

– Monday: Facebook Says Its Rules Apply to All. Company Documents Reveal a Secret Elite That’s Exempt.

🎧 Podcast here.

– Tuesday: Facebook Knows Instagram Is Toxic for Teen Girls, Company Documents Show

🎧 Podcast here.

– Wednesday: Facebook Tried to Make Its Platform a Healthier Place. It Got Angrier Instead.

🎧 Podcast here.

– Friday: How Facebook Hobbled Mark Zuckerberg’s Bid to Get America Vaccinated

Normal editions of NN will resume soon!

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Threaten to Quit Hong Kong Over Proposed Data Laws

That was the headline on an exclusive I had out Monday. It begins:

HONG KONG–Facebook Inc., Twitter Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google have privately warned the Hong Kong government that they could stop offering their services in the city if authorities proceed with planned changes to data-protection laws that could make them liable for the malicious sharing of individuals’ information online.

A letter sent by an industry group that includes the internet firms said companies are concerned that the planned rules to address doxing could put their staff at risk of criminal investigations or prosecutions related to what the firms’ users post online. Doxing refers to the practice of putting people’s personal information online so they can be harassed by others.

Hong Kong’s Constitutional and Mainland Affairs Bureau in May proposed amendments to the city’s data-protection laws that it said were needed to combat doxing, a practice that was prevalent during 2019 protests in the city. The proposals call for punishments of up to 1 million Hong Kong dollars, the equivalent of about $128,800, and up to five years’ imprisonment.

“The only way to avoid these sanctions for technology companies would be to refrain from investing and offering the services in Hong Kong,” said the previously unreported June 25 letter from the Singapore-based Asia Internet Coalition, which was reviewed by The Wall Street Journal.

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India Journalism Tech

Facebook Ends Ban on Posts Asserting Covid-19 Was Man-Made

Facebook Covid

That’s the headline on a story I wrote that ran Thursday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. has ended its ban on posts asserting Covid-19 was man-made or manufactured, a policy shift that reflects a deepening debate over the origins of the pandemic that was first identified in Wuhan, China, almost 18 months ago.

The Wall Street Journal reported Sunday that three researchers from China’s Wuhan Institute of Virology became sick enough in November 2019 that they sought hospital care, according to a previously undisclosed U.S. intelligence report.

“In light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts, we will no longer remove the claim that COVID-19 is man-made or manufactured from our apps,” Facebook said in a statement on its website Wednesday.

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India Journalism Tech

WhatsApp Says It Filed Suit in India to Prevent Tracing of Encrypted Messages

WhatsApp India lawsuit WSJ

That’s the headline on a story out Wednesday by my colleague Jeff Horwitz and me. It begins:

Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp said it filed a lawsuit in India to stop new government rules that would require the company to trace users’ encrypted messages, escalating a battle over online speech between American tech firms and the South Asian nation’s ruling party.

The messaging service, by far the largest in India, said in a statement that it filed the suit late Tuesday with the New Delhi High Court. The company has argued that the new rules violate Indian law because tracing individuals’ messages would violate their fundamental right to privacy.

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India Journalism Tech

Indian Police Visit Twitter’s Office After Politician’s Tweet Is Labeled as Misleading

Twitter India

That’s the headline on a story I wrote that run on Tuesday. It begins:

Indian police visited Twitter Inc.’s office in New Delhi to investigate the company’s labeling of tweets from a ruling party spokesman as misleading, the government’s latest move against U.S. tech platforms amid criticism over its handling of the pandemic.

Sambit Patra, a spokesman for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party, in posts last week shared what he said was a document from the main opposition party purporting to show instructions for criticizing Mr. Modi’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic. India has in recent weeks reported record highs of daily cases and deaths, making it the world’s worst current outbreak.

Twitter appended a label to Mr. Patra’s tweets stating that they contained “manipulated media.” A company policy prohibits the posting of images or videos that Twitter determines may be doctored and could cause harm.

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India Journalism Tech

India’s Covid-19 Crisis Tests the World’s Back Offices

India IT firms and Covid

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Saturday. It begins:

India’s giant outsourcing firms are facing a two-front challenge: protecting the health of millions of employees as the nation suffers the world’s worst Covid-19 crisis, and ensuring that their work continues as usual for the big Western companies on their client lists.

Companies like Infosys Ltd., Wipro Ltd. and Tata Consultancy Services Ltd., known as TCS, have built up armies of workers who serve global clients like Bank of America Corp., Citigroup Inc.’s Citibank and Vanguard Group, doing everything from running call centers to writing computer code. The companies, along with Western tech businesses with large India-based staffs, are dealing with absences of sick workers, trying to help stricken employees find oxygen and getting vaccine shots for others at a time when such resources are scarce.

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