Facebook-owner Meta releases first human rights report

The report, which covers due diligence performed in 2020 and 2021, includes a summary of a controversial human rights impact assessment of India that Meta commissioned law firm Foley Hoag to conduct.

 Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp and Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021 (photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS ILLUSTRATION)
Facebook's new rebrand logo Meta is seen on smartpone in front of displayed logo of Facebook, Messenger, Intagram, Whatsapp and Oculus in this illustration picture taken October 28, 2021
(photo credit: DADO RUVIC/REUTERS ILLUSTRATION)

Facebook-owner Meta released its first annual human rights report on Thursday, following years of accusations that it turned a blind eye to online abuses that fueled real-world violence in places like India and Myanmar.

The report, which covers due diligence performed in 2020 and 2021, includes a summary of a controversial human rights impact assessment of India that Meta commissioned law firm Foley Hoag to conduct.

Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have demanded the release of the India assessment in full, accusing Meta of stalling. 

In its summary, Meta said the law firm had "noted the potential for Meta's platforms to be connected to salient human rights risks caused by third parties," including "advocacy of hatred that incites hostility, discrimination, or violence."

The assessment, it added, did not cover "accusations of bias in content moderation."

 Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram apps are seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC) Facebook, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram apps are seen on a smartphone in this illustration taken, July 13, 2021 (credit: REUTERS/DADO RUVIC)

Anti-Muslim hate speech in India

Rights groups for years have raised alarms about anti-Muslim hate speech stoking tensions in India, Meta's largest market globally by number of users.

Its top public policy executive in India stepped down in 2020 following Wall Street Journal reporting that she opposed applying the company's rules to Hindu nationalist figures flagged internally for promoting violence.

In its report, Meta said it was studying the India recommendations but did not commit to implementing them as it did with other rights assessments.

Asked about the difference, Meta Human Rights Director Miranda Sissons pointed to United Nations guidelines cautioning against risks to "affected stakeholders, personnel or to legitimate requirements of commercial confidentiality."

"The format of the reporting can be influenced by a variety of factors, including security reasons," Sissons told Reuters.

Sissons, who joined the company in 2019, said her team is now comprised of 8 people, while about 100 others work on human rights with related teams.

In addition to country-level assessments, the report outlined her team's work on Meta's COVID-19 response and Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, which involved flagging possible privacy risks and effects on vulnerable groups.

Sissons said analysis of augmented and virtual reality technologies, which Meta has prioritized with its bet on the "metaverse," is largely taking place this year and would be discussed in subsequent reports.