The names of nearly 5 million Bengali-speaking Muslims have been struck off the National Citizenship Register in Assam.

Zafar Aafaq | Caravan Daily

Facebook is being used as an effective tool by xenophobes to amplify hatred against minority population, particularly Muslims in Assam. This, at a time when the government published a controversial citizens register, leaving out nearly two million residents, it was noted in a report released by Avaaz, an Internet advocacy group.

The report referred to as many as 800 posts filled with abuses and insults targeting ethnic minority Muslims. Abusive words like “parasites,” “rats” and “rapists” were liberally used in these posts, which were shared 99,650 times, garnering a total of over 5.4 million views. “This likely represents a drop in the ocean of the hate that has been drowning Assam through Facebook and other social media sites. The state has some 10.25 million people having internet access,” the report stated.

In India, it said Muslims are feeling increasingly targeted as incidents of mob violence continue to spike amidst government complicity. On August 31, India excluded nearly two million people from the citizenship list in Assam following a controversial administrative process that required residents to prove their citizenship.

Home Minister Amit Shah stated that the government will launch a similar exercise of disenfranchisement across the country aiming to purge India of its Muslims labelled as foreigners even as they have lived in the country for decades. He stated that the government will offer relief to Hindus who fail to make it to the list. There is no proposal to protect Muslims excluded from the NRC.

The report accuses Facebook of not doing enough to curb the spread of hate speech in Assam even as the group flagged 213 of the clearest examples of hate speech. “The hate speech posts highlighted in this report were easily found by native Assamese speakers, and yet Facebook’s own team had not previously detected any of them before being alerted about them by Avaaz,” it was stated.

The report also raised questions on the artificial intelligence (AI) driven strategy Facebook has adopted to detect the spread of hate speech in the aftermath of the 2017 Rohingya genocide. This glaring loophole in the strategy existed despite Facebook having acknowledged in 2018 that it should have done more to prevent the platform from being used by individuals or groups to incite violence. “Facebook’s AI tools were not translating content from Assamese, the language of one portion of the hate speech identified in our investigation,” it said.

Despite promises by Facebook, Independent activists feel being betrayed by the failure of Facebook and other social networking platforms to curb the spread of hatred. Instead, they say, Facebook is targeting dissenting voices by blocking their accounts. “My account was blocked for ten days recently and I had to endure a hard battle to get it back,” said Shabnam Hashmi, a Delhi-based civil society activist. “These platforms succumb to government pressure and try to control dissent.”