Civil Society, Advocates, Whistleblowers to Facebook: Release the India Human Rights Report, Without Redaction or Delay

21 Organizations; Haugen, Zhang, Boland Call for Release of Languishing Report on Company’s Role in Spreading Hate Speech and Inciting Violence in India

19 January — Today over 20 organizations, joined by whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang and former Facebook Vice President Brian Boland, called on Facebook to release their long-delayed India Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA), and address grave concerns about the company’s human rights record in India.

In a letter sent to Facebook Director of Human Rights Miranda Sissons on January 3rd, made public today, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, India Civil Watch International, Real Facebook Oversight Board and 21 partners write “The current perception is that Facebook is not committed to respecting rights in this case. The India HRIA is an important element of Facebook’s human rights due diligence and, at a minimum, should be made public, in line with the company’s responsibility to respect human rights.”

Just hours before the press event, Facebook responded to the inquiry, but notably did not promise to ever release the full HRIA.

In 2020, Facebook commissioned the law firm Foley Hoag to conduct the HRIA, meant to be an independent review. The Wall Street Journal recently reported that Facebook’s Human Rights team has taken steps that can be perceived as an effort to narrow the scope of, and perhaps stifle, the independent HRIA it commissioned.

Hosting a press conference today, a spokesperson for the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a Facebook watchdog group, said “Facebook’s pattern remains the same: take the well-intentioned time and feedback of civil society to identify a problem, do nothing and treat it as a PR crisis, rather than a threat to democracy and human rights. From January 6th in the US to the HRIA in India, Facebook’s response is deflect, delay, deny. Facebook’s calamitous role in India’s democracy cannot be hidden any longer. Release the report.”

“Hate is today a State project in India where the political formation in power, and its vigilante organizations & brown shirts are mentally and physically armed through hate propaganda to violently harm religious minorities, women, and Dalits,” said Teesta Setalvad, a speaker on the call and member Citizens for Justice and Peace. “Prejudiced ideas, acts of prejudice, discrimination, violence –4 stages prior to Genocide — have been breached. That Facebook can be a participant-platform in this escalation up the genocidal pyramid is shocking & unacceptable.”

Continued delays risk lives. As the whistleblower Frances Haugen’s reports have made clear, there is an epidemic of hate speech and disinformation on Facebook’s platforms in India, particularly targeting Muslims and other minority groups. Much of this content flagrantly violates community standards, yet it has not been taken down — partly because Facebook has not allocated nearly enough resources to tackling the problem.

In Wednesday’s panel, and in the letter, activists cited the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, which urge that companies should “be prepared to communicate this externally, particularly when concerns are raised by or on behalf of affected stakeholders.”

Dr. Zafarul-Islam Khan, a former Chairman of Delhi Minorities Commission, said “As a result of the consistent barrage of hate on social media, particularly on Facebook, Indian Muslims have been practically dehumanised and rendered helpless and voiceless, so much so that now there is talk in the air of an impending genocide of Indian Muslims.

Read the letter here.

Further resources for journalists including official complaints, recent social media posts and relevant documents are here.

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India Civil Watch International (ICWI) is a North America-based human rights monitoring and advocacy organization based out of North America. Its areas of focus include fighting hate speech on social media, campaigning for the rights of political prisoners, anti caste work in the diaspora, and combating far-right extremism in India and in the diaspora. https://indiacivilwatch.org

The Real Facebook Oversight Board is an emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms from leading global scholars, experts and advocates. https://twitter.com/FBoversight

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Real Facebook Oversight Board

An emergency response to the ongoing harms on Facebook’s platforms from leading global scholars, experts and advocates.