Facebook was well aware of incendiary anti-Muslim narratives being promoted on the platform in India, whistleblower and former Facebook employee Frances Haugen told United States authorities, The Wire reported.

Haugen also cited internal company documents referring to “fear-mongering content” promoted by “Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh users, groups and pages”.

She claimed that “political considerations” prevented Facebook from providing a designation to “this group”, in what seems to refer to the possibility of increased monitoring of RSS-related content.

Haugen referred to internal records on hateful content targeting Muslims in India. “There were a number of dehumanising posts comparing Muslims to ‘pigs’ and ‘dogs’ and misinformation claiming the Quran calls for men to rape their female family members,” she quoted a company document as saying.

The document reportedly stated that no action is taken against much of this content as the company lacks “Hindi and Bengali classifiers”. Classifiers refer to algorithms that detect hate speech.

Haugen, through her lawyers, has filed at least eight complaints against Facebook with the US’ Securities and Exchange Commission, CBS News reported. The complaints relate to “making material misrepresentations and omissions in statements” to investors through filings with the SEC, testimonies to the US Congress, online statements and media articles.

She reportedly based her complaints on tens of thousands of documents that she secretly copied before leaving Facebook in May. At least four of the complaints contain references to India, according to The Wire.

Haugen’s lawyer’s cited internal company documents to show that India is classified as a Tier-0 country, which implies that the company will pay more attention to the country during important election cycles. Apart from India, only the US and Brazil are classified in this category.

However, a separate section on misinformation reportedly suggests that the US receives 87% of the resources available for this purpose, while the rest of the world receives only 13%.

Former Facebook employee Frances Haugen testifies before US lawmakers. [Credit: Matt McClain/Pool via Reuters]

Haugen also told US authorities that Facebook and Instagram knew in 2019 that the platforms were being used to “promote human trafficking and domestic servitude”, according to CBS News.

She also alleged that Facebook failed to put in place measures to prevent misinformation and violent extremism in connection with the 2020 US election and the storming of the Capitol.

Lena Pietsch, Facebook’s director of policy communications, told the channel that the teams have to “have to balance protecting the right of billions of people to express themselves openly with the need to keep our platform a safe and positive place”.

Pietsch said the company was making improvements to tackle the spread of fake news and harmful content. “To suggest we encourage bad content and do nothing is just not true,” she added.

Meanwhile, on Tuesday, Haugen also testified before the US Congress saying that Facebook’s products “harm children, stoke division and weaken our democracy”, Reuters reported.

She said that the buck stops with Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, but there was no one holding him to account.

Highlights from the US Congress hearing:

  • “The company’s leadership knows how to make Facebook and Instagram safer, but won’t make the necessary changes because they put their astronomical profits before people,” Haugen told US lawmakers, according to Reuters.
  • US Democrat Senator Edward Markey said that the Congress will take action in the matter. He remarked that Facebook was like “big tobacco, enticing young kids with that first cigarette”, The Guardian reported. “We will not allow your company to harm our children and our families and our democracy, any longer.”
  • Haugen said that Facebook does not allocate  enough resources to dealing with misinformation aimed at non-English speakers. She said that the resource gap is fueling violence in places like Ethiopia, according to The Guardian.
  • The whistleblower also suggested that the minimum age for the photo-sharing platform Instagram  can be increased from 13 to 16 or 18, AP reported.