Calls for accountability at Facebook continue as whistleblowers Frances Haugen and Sophie Zhang, former Facebook Vice President Brian Boland, and 25 advocacy organizations sent a letter to Facebook’s (now Meta) Director of Human Rights Miranda Sissons on January 19. The letter urges the company to release the Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA), which Facebook commissioned in 2020. The HRIA works to “evaluate [Facebook’s] role in spreading hate speech and incitement to violence on its services in India.”
The Facebook whistleblowers and organizations explain that Facebook commissioned Foley Hoag, a law firm, to conduct the HRIA in 2020, but the findings have yet to be released. The letter cites a recent article in The Wall Street Journal that reports Facebook is actually stifling the publication of the report.
The signatories of the letter highlight aspects of Haugen’s disclosures, which claim that “there is an epidemic of hate speech and disinformation on Facebook’s platforms in India, particularly targeting Muslims and other minority groups.” The letter states that while a lot of this type of content “violates community standards,” it has yet to be removed from the site, “partly because Facebook has not allocated nearly enough resources to tackling the problem.” The letter also mentions Wall Street Journal reporting of “troubling reports of a pattern of favoritism by FB India toward the ruling BJP party in India, as well as ties between a former FB India staff and the party.”
Haugen, Zhang, Boland, and the group of organizations argue that “it is vitally important that an HRIA probing Facebook’s human rights impacts in India be thorough, extensive, and entirely independent. Any indication or perception that this is not the case is deeply concerning.”
The letter also mentions the alleged stifling of the report: “We understand that Facebook has narrowed the draft report’s scope and demanded more data and made technical objections.” The letter explains that this action “has created the impression that the HRIA is not independent or that Facebook does not wish for certain information to be included.”
“As human rights and digital rights organizations, we are troubled by reporting that the Human Rights team at Facebook may be involved in shaping the HRIA in any way,” the letter states. “The current perception is that Facebook is not committed to respecting rights in this case.” The groups urge that Facebook release the HRIA to the public, “in line with the company’s responsibility to respect human rights.”
“We urge the company to release a public, unredacted, and complete India Human Rights Impact Assessment without delay,” the letter concludes.
An accompanying Medium article posted by the Real Facebook Oversight Board, a group formed in 2020 to critique Facebook’s Oversight Board and one of the signers of the letter, reports that Facebook has “responded to the inquiry, but notably did not promise to ever release the full HRIA.”
On the same day as the letter’s release, Haugen tweeted: “
Facebook @Meta has demonstrated that it cannot safely operate in the dark. I fully stand behind the demand to release their internal Human Rights Report detailing Facebook's role in driving violence in India. #unBuryIt https://t.co/bOQhDkJB9v
— Frances Haugen (@FrancesHaugen) January 19, 2022