Facebook internal documents reveal inflammatory content spiked 300% on its platforms before Delhi carnage

Facebook’s products in India highlighted inflammatory content linked to deadly carnage which rocked Delhi in Feb 2020 and spiked 300% above previous levels during the months following December 2019

Facebook internal documents reveal inflammatory content spiked 300% on its platforms before Delhi carnage
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NH Web Desk

Facebook’s products in India highlighted inflammatory content linked to deadly carnage which rocked Delhi in February 2020 leaving 53 dead and spiked 300% above previous levels during the months following December 2019, when the anti Citizenship Amendment Act protests swept through the country.

This spike was revealed in a July 2020 report by Facebook’s internal researchers and reviewed by The Washington Post. According to the report, rumors and calls to violence spread particularly on Facebook’s WhatsApp messaging service in late February 2020. Hindu and Muslim communities felt that they saw a large amount of content that encourages conflict, hatred and violence on Facebook and WhatsApp. Facebook has refused to comment on the report.

They stated that saw material blaming Muslims for the spread of Covid-19 and assertions that Muslim men were targeting Hindu women for marriage as a “form of Muslim takeover” of the country. Several of the participants shared fear-mongering themes, physical threat, symbolic threat, Covid-related and false reports of communal violence among them.

The researchers wrote in their report that Private Facebook groups made up of like-minded users generated more divisive content. Inflammatory content primarily targeted the already vulnerable Muslims.

Facebook dispatched researchers to interview dozens of users and a Delhi-based Hindu man told them he received frequent messages on Facebook and WhatsApp “that are all very dangerous,” such as “Hindus are in danger, Muslims are about to kill us,” the researchers reported. There is “so much hatred going on” on Facebook, one Muslim man in Mumbai was quoted as telling the researchers, saying he feared for his life. “It’s scary, it’s really scary.”

Many of the users believed it was “Facebook’s responsibility to reduce this content” in their feeds and on WhatsApp, the report said.


Facebook researchers determined that two Hindu nationalist groups with ties to India’s ruling political party post inflammatory anti-Muslim content on the platform, according to two separate reports earlier this year by teams investigating abuse of the company’s services. The researchers recommended one of the organisations be kicked off for violating the company’s hate speech rules, according to one report, but the group continues to be active.

The other group, researchers said, promoted incitements to violence including “dehumanising posts comparing Muslims to ‘pigs’ and ‘dogs’ and misinformation claiming the Quran calls for men to rape their female family members.” That group also remains active on Facebook, and wasn’t designated as dangerous due to “political sensitivities,” the report said.

The reports show that Facebook is privately aware that people in its largest market are targeted with inflammatory content, and that users say the company isn’t protecting them. In the July 2020 report, titled “Communal Conflict in India,” a Muslim man in Mumbai was quoted as telling researchers that “if social media survives 10 more years like this, there will be only hatred.” Unless the company does a better job of policing content that encourages conflict, India will be a “very difficult place to survive for everyone,” he said, according to the report.

The researchers recommended that for tackling inflammatory content Facebook must invest more resources to build out underlying technical systems that will detect and enforce on inflammatory content in India, the way human reviewers might.

In September 2021, the Delhi Assembly’s peace and harmony committee had stated that it had prima facie found that social media company Facebook was complicit in aggravating the riots that took place in north-east Delhi in February, leaving 53 dead and over 400 injured. Its chairperson Raghav Chadha said they summon Facebook officials in its next hearing, the date of which will be notified soon.

The report titled ‘Facebook hate speech rules collide with Indian politics’ stated that Facebook officials, especially its top public policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, allegedly cited business imperatives while choosing not to apply hate-speech rules to at least four individuals and groups linked to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in India, despite them being internally flagged for promoting or participating in violence.

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