Hong Kong (AFP)

Facebook has apologized for its role in the 2018 violence in Sri Lanka after an investigation found that rumors and hate speech relayed by the American platform may have generated a wave of attacks against Muslims.

In early 2018, violence targeting the Muslim minority had erupted, fueled by social networks, which had led the Sri Lankan government to establish a state of emergency and block access to Facebook throughout the country.

The global social network then commissioned a survey to clarify its role. In their report, investigators estimated that hate content posted on Facebook may have sparked this movement.

"We deplore the misuse of our platform," Facebook said in a statement to Bloomberg News after the findings of the investigation were released on Tuesday. "We recognize the very real impact on human rights that has resulted and we apologize."

During the violence, at least three people were killed and 20 injured. Mosques and businesses belonging to Muslims had been burnt down, particularly in the center of this predominantly Buddhist country.

The hate speech and rumors that spread on Facebook "may have led to violence" offline "," according to Article One, the human rights consulting firm responsible for the investigation.

These experts suggest that before the unrest, Facebook had not removed this content and that it remained and "even spread" on the platform.

In 2018, Sri Lankan officials said that the perpetrators used Facebook to coordinate the attacks and that the platform had "only two people" to examine the content broadcast in Sinhalese, the language of the country's ethnic majority, whose members were at the origin of the attacks.

- Sexual exploitation in Indonesia


Facebook has 4.4 million daily active users in Sri Lanka, according to Article One.

The American giant claims to have taken measures in the past two years to better protect human rights.

"In Sri Lanka (...) we are reducing the spread of frequently shared messages, which are often associated with + clickbait + (use of headlines primarily intended to generate clicks) and misinformation," Facebook said.

The platform says it has hired more staff, including Sinhalese speakers, and has started using detection technology to protect vulnerable communities.

Article One also investigated the impact in Indonesia of Facebook but also of its WhatsApp, Messenger and Instagram subsidiaries.

The cabinet thus noted that in addition to political attacks and attempts to influence elections, the most vulnerable communities of the archipelago face increasing risks.

Image sharing without consent, cyberbullying and sexual exploitation are especially threats to women, according to the consultancy. "In some cases, women are victims of blackmail, forced into violent relationships or even raped to avoid the publication on Facebook of photos of them naked," explains this report published alongside that on Sri Lanka.

Article One also claims to have also "found evidence of blackmail and online sexual exploitation of children" on Facebook.

The social media giant says it is stepping up its efforts for this country, like in Sri Lanka, to protect its users.

In recent years, following various scandals, Facebook has implemented a more rigorous program to respect and protect the privacy of its users.

© 2020 AFP