Facebook urged to block Sri Lanka hate speech

Groups write open letter to Mark Zuckerberg calling for community standards on posts denigrating religions and women
Facebook urged to block Sri Lanka hate speech

Civil society groups and Muslim people demonstrate against anti-Muslim violence in front of Fort Railway Station in Colombo on March 8. Sri Lanka's government temporarily blocked social media platforms including Facebook during the riots. (Photo by Niranjani Roland/ucanews.com)

Civil society organizations in Sri Lanka want Facebook to take action against religious hate speech and posts propagating violence against women on the social media site.

Some 12 organizations wrote an open letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg asking him to implement community standards in local languages and contexts.

The Sri Lankan government temporarily blocked access to Facebook last month amid a wave of anti-Muslim posts.

Raisa Wickrematunga, a member of the Center for Policy Alternatives, said the center had published reports in the last four years about hate speech and violence against women.

"During the recent anti-Muslim riots, there was a post in the Sinhala language on Facebook for six days which mentioned 'killing all Muslims, without sparing even a child, because they are dogs,'" she said. 

"We did research on hate speech involving ethnic, religious and gender disparity and shared the reports with Facebook officials, but we didn't get any response.

"We saw Mark Zuckerberg's testimony before the U.S. Congress on April 10 where he stated the company's priority is protecting its community rather than maximizing profit.

"We welcome and look forward to action by the Facebook team. Even our colleagues in Myanmar and Vietnam wrote open letters to the Facebook team regarding these issues. We are showing our solidarity with them too."

A Facebook delegation met Sri Lankan government officials in March to discuss combating hate speech. There are 6 million Facebook users in Sri Lanka.

Civic rights groups are disappointed by Facebook's inaction.

"We remain deeply frustrated when reporting Facebook posts and pages perpetuating everything from gender-based violence and violence against the LGBTIQ community to hate speech, with little or no support from your platform," the 12 organizations wrote in an open letter to Zuckerberg on April 10.

"There is no transparency around the identity of those moderating flagged posts in Sinhala or, importantly, their gender."

Austin Fernando, chairman of the Telecommunications Regulatory Commission of Sri Lanka, said a Facebook office will be set up in Colombo.

Dr. Sepali Kottegoda, executive director of the Women and Media Collective who signed the letter, said the group had found very arrogant posts against ethnic women on Facebook.

"Some people use words in an unacceptable way, so Facebook should implement community standards," she said.

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Wickrematunga said posts in the Tamil language can be moderated more easily because Tamil is also used in neighboring India, but there is no immediate mechanism for posts in Sinhala. 

"Some take profile pictures without permission and share them, commenting in bad terms about women. These are the trends we have seen," she said.

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