Categories
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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Categories
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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Categories
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.

Categories
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
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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Categories
India Journalism

Me on ‘The Journal’ Podcast Talking India, Covid-19, and Social Media

Journal podcast -- India, Covid, social media

I was on Tuesday’s edition of our “The Journal” podcast talking about my recent story on India, Covid-19, and accusations that the government is censoring social media over its handling of the crisis.

You can listen online here or find it on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or other services. It was out May 4 and is called “India’s Social Media Crackdown.”

Categories
India Journalism Tech

India Accused of Censorship for Blocking Social Media Criticism Amid Covid Surge

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:

India’s government ordered Twitter Inc., Facebook Inc. and Instagram to block about 100 social media posts criticizing its handling of the exploding Covid-19 surge in the country, sparking public anger and allegations of censorship in the world’s most populous democracy.

Officials said the legally binding order was designed to tackle what it called attempts in recent days to spread coronavirus-related misinformation and create panic by posting images of dead bodies taken out of context. Twitter, which received many of the takedown requests, blocked the posts in India, though they remained visible outside the country.

“Certain people are misusing social media to create panic in society,” India’s Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology said in a statement Monday, when asked about the blocks. It didn’t specify which laws were used to issue the orders.

Many people on social media reacted with outrage. They said that the posts and others—some from senior opposition politicians—were political speech, arguing that Prime Minister Narendra Modi hasn’t done enough to curb India’s mammoth coronavirus surge, which shows no signs of slowing down from setting global records.

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Categories
Journalism Tech

Facebook Staff Fret Over China’s Ads Portraying Happy Muslims in Xinjiang

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive that went online Friday and was in Saturday’s print WSJ. It begins:

Facebook Inc. is blocked in China, but Beijing is a big user of the platform to spread its political views to hundreds of millions of people overseas, sometimes via advertisements.

Now, some Facebook staff are raising concerns on internal message boards and in other employee discussions that the company is being used as a conduit for state propaganda, highlighting sponsored posts from Chinese organizations that purport to show Muslim ethnic minority Uyghurs thriving in China’s Xinjiang region, according to people familiar with the matter.

The U.S. and some European governments say Beijing is committing genocide against the Uyghurs, citing a campaign that includes political indoctrination, mass internment and forced sterilizations.

Facebook hasn’t determined whether to act on the concerns, say people familiar with the matter. The company is watching how international organizations such as the United Nations respond to the situation in Xinjiang, one of the people said. The U.N. this week called on firms conducting Xinjiang-linked business to undertake “meaningful human rights due diligence” on their operations.

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Categories
Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook Drops Plan to Run Fiber Cable to Hong Kong Amid U.S. Pressure

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Drew FitzGerald, out Wednesday. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. consortium withdrew its bid to build a new internet conduit between California and Hong Kong after months of pressure from U.S. national-security officials, the latest sign of a deepening rift between the two governments.

The social-media giant told the U.S. Federal Communications Commission in a filing it would withdraw its application to land the Hong Kong-Americas project, known by its abbreviation HKA, pending a new request for “a possibly-reconfigured submarine cable system.”

Facebook and several telecommunications-industry partners first filed for permission to build the fiber-optic cable in 2018. It would have connected two sites in California with branches to Hong Kong and Taiwan.

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Categories
India Journalism Tech

India Threatens Jail for Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter Employees

That’s the headline on my latest story, an exclusive out Friday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz.

It begins:

India’s government has threatened to jail employees of Facebook Inc., its WhatsApp unit and Twitter Inc. as it seeks to quash political protests and gain far-reaching powers over discourse on foreign-owned tech platforms, people familiar with the warnings say.

The warnings are in direct response to the tech companies’ reluctance to comply with data and takedown requests from the government related to protests by Indian farmers that have made international headlines, the people say. At least some of the written warnings cite specific, India-based employees at risk of arrest if the companies don’t comply, according to some of the people.

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