How to handle hate speech on social media......by.Gurjot Singh Kaler
The Supreme Court of India has recently expressed its intention to curb such hate speeches which create divisions in society, cause communal disharmony and damage the secular fabric of the nation.
It is a fact that social media is being grossly misused and manipulated nowadays by many vested interests, anti-social elements, mischief-mongers, and miscreants to spew communal venom, create discord amongst various religious groups, and polarize society in extreme forms. This is not a healthy development and needs to be tackled urgently to prevent further damage.Hate speech is neither defined in the Indian legal framework nor can it be easily reduced to a standard definition due to the myriad forms it can take.
The Supreme Court of India has recently tried to define hate speech as “an effort to marginalize individuals based on their membership in a group” and one that “seeks to delegitimize group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society.”
The business and revenue generation model of various social media platforms functions based on viewer engagement and maximizing the reading or viewing times.
As a result, the social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, etc., make huge money by allowing advertisers to target audiences with extreme precision, and thus, it is in their interests to let people find the communities where they will spend the most time.
Social media platforms like Facebook, YouTube, and others tend to work on such algorithm-based models of artificial intelligence that promote viewership engagement, and hence, it can inadvertently result in promoting violence and extreme content.
For instance, if a person happens to watch any random YouTube video on communal violence or a conspiracy theory, the auto-play option and automatic suggestion of related videos based on one’s previously watched the history of videos, can subsequently result in exposing him/her to hatred driven propaganda and sinister participation in violence in the long run.
These algorithms are somehow responsible for driving people to watch the recommended videos that promote conspiracies, rumors, and gossips that are divisive, misleading, and false.
Social media companies also need to be transparent and accountable in terms of their approach to defining, moderating, and tackling hate speech on their platforms. They need to employ better artificial intelligence and region-specific content moderators in huge numbers to deal with the enormity of the data.
The government and authorities need to establish permanent 24-by-7 helplines wherein the people can report such matters of hate speech and immediate action can be taken without any delay. The reporting and grievance redressal mechanisms of social media platforms generally do not offer instant help, support, or assistance to the general public.
In most cases, there is often an excruciating delay of several days or weeks, even months before a worthwhile action is taken in terms of removing a derogatory video or disabling an account on social media platforms. As such, a monumental proportion of damage usually gets done which is beyond repair or redemption.
Even though the social media giants have reported that they are making use of artificial intelligence, establishing user reporting channels, and have employed a staff of technically trained personnel called ‘content moderators’ for scanning and remove the hate speeches on their platforms and disable the accounts of individuals indulging in it, still, it is grossly insufficient.
It seems like a half-hearted approach as these limited number of content moderators are enormously burdened with the sheer volume and content of data that they are required to handle at a breakneck speed in a given period. Apart from having legal frameworks to tackle hate speech online by social media companies, it is necessary to awaken people’s awareness levels and degree of consciousness.
The government and social media platforms need to play a more proactive role in helping netizens become aware of distinguishing between free speech and hate speech. Internet and social media blackouts cannot be a knee-jerk reaction to incidents of unrest or violence.
The war of rumors, propaganda, and misinformation has to be decisively fought with the dissemination of correct and truthful information speedily via the right channels of government communication and social media platforms’ representatives.
People have to be sensitized and digitally educated to differentiate, judge, and flag objectionable content as to what is right versus what is wrong on social media. It is the moral responsibility of each one of us to produce, share, forward and consume content on social media as conscientious citizens and not merely as indoctrinated and blindfolded individuals.
The need of the hour is to conduct online digital literacy campaigns by all the social media companies in close coordination with region-specific legal authorities so that social media users can develop the critical thinking ability to evaluate the information they receive via their online accounts.
Social media users need to be educated that without knowing about the source, veracity, or authenticity of the information, they should resist sharing or forwarding any social media posts which can unintentionally cause hatred towards their perceived opponents like ethnic, racial, and religious groups.
There is an urgent necessity for a mechanism to be established by government agencies and social media companies to help users cross-check or verify the authenticity of the information which is being circulated, shared, or forwarded on their platforms.
Also, it is important that any objectionable content which is flagged by social media users as offensive or discriminatory, or communally sensitive is immediately taken down and such accounts violating community standards are disabled indefinitely. There has to be a transparent system at the level of the region-specific governments to determine and decide if any social media post classifies as a violation of the relevant laws of the land and can be dangerous to society’s welfare.
After such a decision has been made transparently by the government, then, the responsibility to remove the flagged controversial matter should be the direct onus of the social media companies. If they fail to comply with the government directions or legal communication in a time-bound manner, then, these social media companies should also be made co-accused in the legal proceedings.
After all, public welfare cannot be sacrificed at the altar of the self-serving profiteering motives of social media companies. It would be really helpful if India makes it compulsory for these social media companies to set up their servers in the country of operation which would automatically bring their relevant digital data storage under the territorial and legal jurisdiction of India and then, they would be required to comply with India’s laws, rules and regulations.
Social media companies need to have robust regulatory mechanisms in place as well as speedy-cum-effective help or support centers to act quickly to remove any inflammatory or communally sensitive content on their platforms; any delay or procrastination should be unacceptable keeping in view the public interest and societal welfare in mind. Social media platforms cannot be allowed to play havoc with people’s lives by playing into the hands of communally vested interests.
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