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Hate speech: Plea to Meta AGM to oppose Facebook's 'biased operations' in India

By Our Representative 

Campaign groups Ekō, India Civil Watch International (ICWI), and Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), referring to Meta’s Annual General Meeting (AGM), to be held on May 31, where vote on Proposal 7’s bears “significance for the Indian audience”, has said that its outcome is particularly important against the backdrop of allegations against Facebook for allowing spread of hate speech.
One of the 13 proposals to be voted, the campaign groups say in an email alert to Counterview, “Of particular concern is Meta's consistently disappointing approach in such instances. Rather than promptly addressing divisive content, they have prioritised potential business interests over removing a source of hate speech, arguing that the latter could negatively impact their business in India.”
Proposal 7 titled “Assessing Allegations of Biased Operations in Meta's Largest Market”, is to be presented at Meta's AGM on May 31, 2023. The groups say, “It highlights allegations against Facebook for disseminating hate speech, its failure to address risks and political bias, voices concerns around inadequate content moderation and lack of transparency in platform practices.”
Meta is the parent company of Facebook, Instagram and other widely used social media platforms. Its founder, chairman, chief executive officer, and largest shareholder (13.4%) Mark Zukerberg, senior executives, nine members of Meta’s Board, and other members of the leadership team, will be in attendance at the AGM.
Other large shareholders are asset managers Vanguard with 6.9% share, BlackRock with 5.8% share, and Fidelity with 4.7% share. While Zuckerberg is not only the largest shareholder, he controls Meta with 61.9% of all votes thanks to super-voting shares.
The groups say, “Amidst the various proposals to be discussed, Proposal 7 tackles the critical issue of how Meta handles content regulation in India, a matter with profound implications for our society. It delves into the concerning role played by Meta's platforms in disseminating hate speech, fostering divisions, and even instigating real-world violence.”
Pointing towards how Ekō, ICWI, and IFF jointly launched a campaign to increase awareness among Meta shareholders and Meta users about the upcoming AGM meeting and Proposal 7, the groups insist, “We call on shareholders to vote 'Yes' on Proposal 7 by May 31.”
The email alert quotes Glass Lewis, a leading advisory service, which manages more than 40 trillion in assets, as well as provides institutional investors with guidance on resolutions has recommended shareholders vote ‘Yes’ on the proposal. For years, Glass Lewis has brought environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) expertise and analysis across approximately 100 global markets.
It says, Proposal 7 and the outcome of the vote “bear significance for the Indian audience”, underlining, “During the 2020 Delhi riots, Facebook faced numerous allegations that hate speech spread on the platform had fueled the violence. In another incident, Facebook's role in the communal riots which erupted in Delhi was investigated, after a video of a religious leader openly calling for 'ethnic cleansing' was shared widely on various Meta platforms.”
“Of particular concern is Meta's consistently disappointing approach in such instances. Rather than promptly addressing divisive content, they have prioritised potential business interests over removing a source of hate speech, arguing that the latter could negatively impact their business in India”, it adds.
The groups say, “Reports also indicate that Facebook may have allowed political parties to promote surrogate advertisements to boost their visibility. Furthermore, the content moderation system, which serves as our defence against hate speech, is ineffective in handling India's diverse range of official languages.”
They add, “Accusations have surfaced from individuals across the political spectrum over the years, with the most significant impact often affecting those without power. While social networks enable users to exercise their right to free expression, a goal worth protecting, we are frequently confronted with the harms they cause. This calls for systemic fixes and genuine accountability in a transparent, proportional, and certain manner.”
The email alert also quotes Apar Gupta, founding director of IFF, expressing disappointment over Meta's failure to fulfil its obligations to shareholders and the Indian republic, stating, "Today, a crisis affects Meta's reputation, operations, ESG commitments, and, ultimately, its investments. Meta platforms Facebook, Instagram and Whatsapp with a rising teleconnectivity are used by most, if not all Indians with internet connections. The widespread use of these social platforms by its very nature bears the weight of social responsibility by Meta, in the company’s largest market.”
It also quotes top human rights leader Teesta Setalvad, a participant in Meta’s Human Right Impact Assessment, as saying, "At Citizens for Justice and Peace we have used every method available to track and report hate speech that is so harmful to our society. Social media, and the particular algorithm of Meta in India has made everything worse.”
She continues, “It has given a megaphone to the worst elements in our society, and further disempowered institutional mechanisms to hold them to account. It is with good faith that we participated in the Human Rights Impact Assessment and are extremely disappointed in Meta's response. Not only was the report not made public, there has been absolutely no change based on our suggestions.”
“India is the only country that has been subject to this degree of lack of transparency. This double standard needs to stop. Indian users of Meta are subjected to viral hate speech fed by its biased algorithms, while American users of Meta have checks and balances engineered to protect its users from the same thing. We urge the shareholders of Meta to use this opportunity to vote yes on Resolution 7", the senior activist adds.
Meanwhile, Ekō has submitted a shareholder proposal that demands that Meta commission a non-partisan assessment of these allegations and disclose the results in a report to investors. The assessment would evaluate political biases, content management capabilities, and the effectiveness of mechanisms in combating hate speech and disinformation.
“Meta has failed to publish the full report of the Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) for India which leads to concerns about Meta stifling transparency and accountability. Further, the four page summary on India’s assessment published in Meta’s first annual Human Rights Report is not reflective of the inputs provided by several civil society organisations who participated in the assessment”, the email alert says.
It regrets, “Meta’s Board has already cast the Proposal in an unfavourable light, stating their justification for such limited and insufficient disclosure as necessary to mitigate security risks for Meta’s employees. The Board of Directors, have thus recommended that shareholders vote against this proposal.”

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