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Whistleblower warns MPs that Facebook could be fanning the flames of hate in Myanmar and Ethiopia

FACEBOOK whistleblower Frances Haugen warned MPs today that ethnic violence in Myanmar and Ethiopia will merely be “opening chapters” if action is not taken against the social media giant. 

The former Facebook employee was speaking in front of a parliamentary committee scrutinising the draft Online Safety Bill.

She came before MPs having leaked tens of thousands of internal documents last month highlighting Facebook’s failures to keep its users safe from harmful content. 

Asked whether it was likely that violent events such as the US Capitol invasion, which has been linked to Facebook, could happen again, Ms Haugen replied: “I have no doubt that the events we are seeing around the world like Myanmar, Ethiopia: those are the opening chapters.”

The whistleblower said this was because engagement-based ranking, which orders posts based on the number of people viewing, liking or clicking on it, prioritises and amplifies divisive, polarising extreme content and concentrates it. 

In 2018, Facebook admitted that its platform had been used to incite violence against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. 

She said that Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg has himself acknowledged that engagement-based ranking was dangerous unless “bots” can take out the “bad things.” 

Facebook’s internal investigation found that artificial intelligence only identifies 3 to 5 per cent of hate speech on the platform and only 8.8 per cent of violence-inciting content, she said. 

And Ms Haugen said that she is deeply concerned about Facebook’s underinvestment in non-English languages. 

“So Facebook says things like we support 50 languages, when in reality most of those languages get a tiny fraction of the safety systems that English gets,” she explained.

“Also I don’t think this widely known: UK English is sufficiently different that I would not be surprised if the safety systems that they developed primarily for American English were actually under-enforced in the UK.

“I would not be surprised by that and Facebook should have to disclose dialectical differences.”

Ahead of the evidence session, campaigners staged a protest outside Parliament to demand action to protect teenagers from online harm. Campaign group SumofUs erected a 10-foot-high installation of Mr Zuckerberg surfing a wave of money and surrounded by “distressed tweens.” 

Flora Rebello Arduini of the group said: “This industry is rotten at its core, and the clearest proof of that is what it’s doing to our children. Lawmakers must urgently step in and pull the tech giants into line.”

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