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Facebook apologies for its role in Sri Lankan violence

Following an independent inquiry into Facebook’s impact on human rights in Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia; the company has put out a statement apologising for the role it has played in stoking anti-Muslim violence.

The specific accusations against Facebook relate to an anti-Muslim Digana riot in Kandy. During the riots at least 8 homes and 50 businesses were destroyed. There were also reports that politicians and police backed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa joined the anti-Muslim riots.

These riots were sparked by the spread of a viral video spread on social media platforms such as Facebook, showing a Muslim restaurateur claiming to mix “sterilization pills” into the food of Sinhala-Buddhist men.

In Sri Lanka, there are close to six million Facebook accounts which includes a significant number of fake profiles used to propagate racist content and conspiracy theories related to the island's Muslims. Facebook has claimed a success in combating this content stating that in the first quarter of this year, it removed 2.2 billion fake accounts globally. They further report that over the first quarter of this year they have been successful in removing four million posts of hate speech globally from its platform. This was an increase from the last quarter of 2018 where only 3.3 million pieces of content were detected and removed. 

In responding to the report, the company stated:

“We deplore this misuse of our platform […] We recognize, and apologize for, the very real human rights impact that resulted.”

Facebook has attempted to improve on the situation by increasing its investments in Sinhala and Tamil language experts in order to curb online hate speech and other malicious content from Sri Lanka.

The report notes that Facebook was also complicit in the violence in Myanmar. The report notes however that it would be wrong to ignore the means by which governments have utilised Facebook to identify dissidents and spread misinformation.

Read more from Bloomberg News.