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Facebook increases investment to curb hate speech in Sri Lanka

Facebook has increased its investments in Sinhala and Tamil language experts in order to curb online hate speech and other malicious content from Sri Lanka, as attacks on Muslims have risen since the Easter Sunday bombings earlier this year.

In a press statement, a Facebook spokesperson said:

“We have invested heavily on Sinhala and Tamil language expertises as we have promised. We significantly ramped up our language expertise in Sri Lanka through hiring more experts after the Digana riots.”

The Digana riots was an anti-muslim riot in Kandy which destroyed at least 8 homes and 50 businesses. Reuters notes that police and politicians backed by President Mahinda Rajapaksa joined the anti-Muslim riots.

Read more: Anti-Muslim violence in Kandy, district on lockdown

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. 

The representative from Facebook stated that these improvements are due to investment in proactive detection tools and improving AI but further added that it was also heavily reliant on community support to remove this content.

The means by which Facebook decides which content should be removed has raised concerns amongst the Sinhala community after a Sinhala-language musician, Iraj Weeraratne, accusing the company of suspending his page due to anti-government sentiments. His page had over 1.1 million followers and was also accused of posting racist content. 

Facebook has denied the allegation and insisted that it is upholding itself to the standards of the law and has a robust appeals process so as to protect freedom of speech.

Further concerns have been raised over the blocking of social media platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter during periods of emergency as there is a general distrust of the state's narrative.

Read more here, here and here.