United States-based not-for-profit organisation Avaaz on Friday said that violent hate speech targeting ethnic and religious minorities in Assam on Facebook has been viewed at least 54 lakh times. The report, published in October, comes over two months after the final list of the National Register of Citizens was published, excluding 19 lakh people.
The Avaaz report, Megaphone for Hate, said that Bengali Muslims in particular are targets of hatred on Facebook, with content calling them “criminals”, “rapists”, “terrorists”, “pigs”, and “dogs” being shared over 1,00,000 times. Avaaz said it carried out the investigation during the National Register of Citizens process in Assam.
“The NRC process has prompted repeated warnings from the UN that there was rising hate speech against vulnerable minorities in Assam,” Avaaz said. However, it added, Facebook continues to rely on Artificial Intelligence-based hate speech detection mechanisms. These mechanisms have failed to identify hate speech stoking up ethnic tensions in Assam, the NGO said.
“Facebook is being used as a megaphone for hate, pointed directly at vulnerable minorities in Assam, many of whom could be made stateless within months,” Alaphia Zoyab, senior campaigner at Avaaz, said. “Despite the clear and present danger faced by these people, Facebook is refusing to dedicate the resources required to keep them safe. Through its inaction, Facebook is complicit in the persecution of some of the world’s most vulnerable people.”
Avaaz said it sampled 800 Facebook posts and comments relating to Assam and the NRC, and found that 26.5% violated the social media network’s own standards on hate speech. The NGO added that after sharing this evidence with Facebook, the firm removed 96 of the 213 comments.
Avaaz said that one of the prominent themes in hate posts was “protecting Indian women” from “rape-obsessed foreigners”. It said that Assam MLA Shiladitya Dev published a post shared over 800 times, which implied that those who rape “our mothers and sisters” are Bangladeshi Muslims. Facebook deleted the post.
Avaaz said that the hate speech directed against Bangladeshi Muslims was similar to that used against the Rohingya in Myanmar. Hate speech against Rohingya was also found in India, it added.
“The report calls on Facebook, the Indian government and the UN to do more to protect vulnerable minorities in Assam,” the organisation said. “Facebook should not rely solely on AI to detect hate speech in particularly dangerous contexts such as Assam, where the UN has issued warnings about the rise of hate speech on social media and its ‘potential destabilising effects’ for millions, as in Assam.”
The NGO also demanded that the Indian government ensure that no person excluded from the NRC is rendered stateless, and also protect the rights of those left off the list.
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