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Facebook responds to Samoan Govt. ban threat

Social media giant, Facebook, has responded to questions about the Government's threat to ban the platform from Samoa, assuring it is working to protect its users from hate speech.

In response to questions by the Samoa Observer, a spokesperson from Facebook assured that the company is working hard to manage hate speech.

“Facebook is a platform for diverse views,” the company said in an email response.

“We believe in protecting freedom of expression on our services, while protecting our community from harmful content, including hate speech.

“We invest billions of dollars each year to keep our community safe and we are making real progress keeping hate speech off our platform. 

“We also work with academics and experts across the world to develop even more tools, technology and policies to continue this important work.”

Last month, Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi said his Government will start looking at banning Facebook from screens because of “faceless” users spreading “lies” to “defame” members of the public, including high profile Government and business officials.

Facebook and other social media platforms could be banned, he said, and urged people to stop sharing misinformation ahead of the general election in 2021.

Last week, the company established the Pacific Islands Digital Citizenship and Safety Advisory Group, which will work on a digital education programme for the region, with members from Fiji, Samoa, Tonga, New Zealand and Australia. 

It will use a Facebook programme called We Think Digital, launched in February this year for the Asia Pacific region, to develop educational programming that suits Pacific Island communities. 

Mia Garlick, Facebook’s Director of Policy for Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific said as more people in the region use social media for all their information, Facebook wants to support local communities to use its platform safely.

In 2019, in the midst of the measles epidemic, Facebook scanned for health-related misinformation and removed it from the site, as well as added a prompt to Samoan newsfeeds directing them to the Ministry of Health website for information on the epidemic and vaccinations.

It also used a pop-up, that was activated when people searched for vaccine information, to direct users to authoritative information from the World Health Organisation. 

Facebook defines hate speech as violent or dehumanizing speech, statements of inferiority, or calls for exclusion or segregation on people based on what we call protected characteristics — race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity, and serious disease or disability.

It uses Community Standards to manage the work of letting people speak freely online without hurting anyone, and employs artificial intelligence tools known as proactive detection technology, which gets to about 90 per cent of hate speech before it is reported, Facebook states. 

Sir Nick Clegg, head of of Global Affairs and Communications (and former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom), came out last month to state that Facebook does not “benefit” from hate speech, and that it takes a “zero tolerance approach.

“When content falls short of being classified as hate speech — or of our other policies aimed at preventing harm or voter suppression — we err on the side of free expression because, ultimately, the best way to counter hurtful, divisive, offensive speech, is more speech. Exposing it to sunlight is better than hiding it in the shadows,” he said.

“Unfortunately, zero tolerance doesn’t mean zero incidences.”

To date, Facebook employs 35,000 people to work on safety and security issues on Facebook, the spokesperson said.

Of those, 15,000 are content reviewers that work around the clock and in 50 languages, alongside outsourced partners to help with languages.

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