Regulating hate speech in the Asia Pacific

Australian researchers are calling on Facebook to boost its consultation with minority groups and better train its in-house moderators in response to online hate speech in the Asia Pacific region.

The findings of the first Facebook-funded regional study show that, despite automated moderation and improved content standards, the platform is still allowing vilification and discrimination to proliferate on public pages, with inadequate mechanisms to address it.

Co-author Professor Katharine Gelber from The University of Queensland’s School of Political Science and International Studies said the social media giant had adjusted its definition of hate speech to be more nuanced.

“Facebook has made big strides in the last few years to address hate speech on its platform,” Professor Gelber said.

“But the main problems are firstly, it does not have enough local contextual knowledge or input, and secondly it relies on a single definition globally to flag hate content.”

The study Regulating Hate Speech in the Asia Pacific analysed a cross section of public pages administered by LGBTQ+ groups in India, Indonesia, Myanmar, The Philippines and Australia and found most felt they had little or no support from the platform when they were targeted by hate speech.

It found in India, Indonesia and the Philippines in particular, LGBTQ+ groups are exposed to an unacceptable level of discriminatory, hateful and threatening posts, which escape Facebook’s machine filters.

Professor Gelber said the authors from UQ and University of Sydney would like to see Facebook take a more proactive role in moderating hate speech.

“Our recommendations centre around better local input, better recognition of the context-dependent nature of hate speech, and better support for page administrators who report problematic content,” she said.

“They feel untrained and unsupported, and they also feel that sometimes trying to address hate speech puts them in further peril.”

Professor Gelber said government also had a significant role to play.

“But because so much occurs on privately run platforms, what is needed right now is a multi-layered approach where users, community organisations, the platforms and government all play a role in mediating and remedying harmful speech online,” she said.

“We are hoping to raise awareness of the scope and scale of the problem in the Asia Pacific region.

“We are also hoping to enter into ongoing dialogue with organisations like Facebook to assist them in developing better policy to address harmful speech over time.”

This study was funded as part of the Facebook Content Policy Research on Social Media Awards to examine Facebook’s hate speech regulation challenges in the Asia Pacific.

This is the first team of Australian social scientists to be awarded Facebook funding for social media research, and the first integrated, comparative study of hate speech on Facebook in this many countries across the region. The report can be found here.