Tech, Fear and Accountability

Sanjana Hattotuwa and Victoire Rio were talking about how can we address the problem of online harm, and negative impact an consequences, especially in social media. Internet, in the last couple years especially, is being used to emphasize differences, to incite violence and promote hatred towards different groups.

In the last couple of years, fortunately, there has been increased pressure on the tech companies to tackle these problems with more vigour, change their policies

Social media has taken up roots in Sri Lankan politics after the 30-year war ended, almost 10 years ago.

The problem is that, first adopters of the social media, and consequently, the ones who dominated the social media space were the worst elements of the society, such as racist political actors, the religious elements of the society, who are also divisive and racist.

The problem for moderating that kind of hateful content, at least for Facebook and other social media companies was what it was happening in Sri Lankan language, and social media companies were not equipped do deal with this.

However, the activists from Sri Lanka gathered the hateful content, translated it to English language and sent it to Facebook. However, although that happened in 2013 and 2014, Facebook failed to react until March 2018. In Sanjana’s opinion, that’s due to the fact that after Cambridge Analytica scandals, the West started to perceive what social networks were used for.

When it comes to Myanmar, Victoire Rio (Myanmar Tech Accountability Network), found really striking the fact that many people in Myanmar do not believe anything bad is happening. There is a lot of talk on how the western media and their portrayal of the crisis is fake news, but not much talk on the actual crisis. The main reason for that, in her opinion is the fact that the Myanmar people were exposed to a coordinated hate-speech campaign for many years.

In terms of Internet adoption, Myanmar is a strange case, since Internet was introduced recently. Only in 2014. internet became widely available in the country. In 2012. we had the first warning signs, with waves of violence in some regions. At this time, only 1% of the people in Myanmar had access to internet. The same in Sri Lanka, early adopters were far right people, who used Facebook as a fuel to incite violence.  Another link with Sri Lanka is the fact that Facebook did not have enough content moderators fluent in Burmese.

In 2014, there was a violent incident directly linked to some Facebook posts being shared, and that’s when the Myanmar government shut down Facebook, after they couldn’t reach anyone to deal with the said content. After that, Facebook presence in the country was amplified (they came around 2-3 times a year to talk with the government and CSOs), but again, nothing happened, since they were warned that the situation is only getting worse, but nothing happened.

So, how do we tackle these problems? Good timing, unfortunately, Is everything. In order to make changes to social media giants’ policies, you need to put pressure at the right time. At this point, thing seem to be moving for the better.

Since 2018 Facebook is dedicating more resources and working with the CSOs in identifying problems and trying to implement better community standards. However, we cannot say that thing will get better, since there is certainly a lot of work ahead.

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