Facebook Inc.’s lack of a serious response to signs of abuse on its platform in Sri Lanka may have helped stoke deadly violence in the country in 2018, according to an investigation of the social network’s operations there. The company released a summary of the findings Tuesday, along with other independent assessments of the service’s impact on human rights in Indonesia and Cambodia.
“We deplore this misuse of our platform,” the company said in a response to the Sri Lanka report. “We recognize, and apologize for, the very real human rights impacts that resulted.” Facebook also highlighted actions it has taken to address the problems, including hiring content moderators with local language skills, implementing technology that automatically detects signs of hate speech and keeps abusive content from spreading, and trying to deepen relationships with local civil society groups.
The report on Sri Lanka details Facebook’s failure to respond to almost a decade of warnings about misuse of its platform from groups within the country. In 2018, a viral video falsely purporting to show a Muslim restaurateur admitting to mixing “sterilization pills” into the food of Sinhala-Buddhist men may have contributed to unrest and physical harm.
The company’s products may still pose a challenge going forward — particularly end-to-end encryption on WhatsApp. Viral misinformation on the messaging service has already stoked violence and deaths in India, and while Facebook has started to fight this by limiting some message forwarding, the company’s inability to read encrypted messages makes it difficult to spot potentially dangerous activity.