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Facebook sorry for role in Sri Lankan riots

Tech giant apologizes for not blocking hate speech and fake news that contributed to 2018 violence

UCA News reporter, Colombo

UCA News reporter, Colombo

Updated: May 15, 2020 09:45 AM GMT
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Facebook sorry for role in Sri Lankan riots

A Muslim man inspects Pallekelle’s damaged mosque in Kandy on April 6, 2018. The government imposed a curfew in Kandy following a series of anti-Muslim attacks targeting mosques, shops and houses. (Photo: UCA News)

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Facebook has apologized for its role in deadly anti-Muslim violence in Sri Lanka two years ago after an investigation found that hate speech and rumors spread on the social media platform might have led to some attacks.

At least three people were killed and many were injured during the unrest. Muslim-owned businesses, homes and vehicles were set on fire. Mosques were attacked and thousands were displaced in Kandy in the central hills.

The role of Facebook was widely criticized after the anti-Muslim riots.

A false video was posted purporting to show Muslim restaurant owners mixing sterilization pills into the food of Sinhala-Buddhist customers.

Some Sinhala posts said, “Kill all Muslims,” “They are dogs” and “Do not spare even an infant.” False reports that a monk had been murdered stirred up anger among Buddhist people.

These posts made the government block access to Facebook in March 2018.

Facebook has revealed the findings of an investigation it commissioned into the part it might have played in the unrest.

"We deplore this misuse of our platform. We recognize and apologize for the very real human rights impacts that resulted," the tech giant said in a statement.

Facebook proposes solutions such as hiring local language-based moderators and using technology that automatically detects signs of hate speech or obscene content. It will try to strengthen relationships with civil society groups and improve reporting mechanisms and response opportunities.

The investigation report contains information on the inability of Facebook to respond to instances of abuse of its social network for nearly a decade. It was also accused of helping to incite violence in Myanmar in 2018.

Arul Nandana, an activist for interfaith harmony, said that hate mongering exchanged through Facebook contributed to the violence against Muslims in 2018.

He pointed out that Facebook had failed to remove posts that continued to spread hate speech and other forms of harassment for the past 10-20 years.

"It fuels impunity and anti-Muslim violence," said Nandana from Kandy. "Although some [attackers] were arrested by authorities, political figures were later released."

A social media activist who wanted to remain anonymous said that Facebook is big business in the world.

“There is no control but they should be controlled. Measures should be taken to safeguard peace in the country," she said.

She said all governments want to control social media and their intention is to suppress anti-government views.

Sri Lanka's 22 million people are about 70 percent Buddhist, 13 percent Hindu, 10 percent Muslim and 7 percent Christian.

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