Meta’s Human Rights Report ignores the real threat the company poses to human rights around the world

Alia Al Ghussain, campaign manager, Amnesty Tech

Last week, Meta released its first annual human rights report, covering all of the company’s platforms and products, including Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp.

Besieged by a series of scandals following the shocking revelations of the “Facebook Papers” leaked, Meta says the report draws inspiration from the provision enshrined in the UN Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights that companies “know and show” that they respect fundamental rights.

However, this report comes across as a superficial and selective analysis of the company’s human rights impacts, blatantly revealing no information about the company’s most pressing threats to human rights around the world.

What about the business model?

The Human Rights Report makes no mention of the root cause of Meta’s systemic threat to human rights: the surveillance-based advertising business model, which drives the company to collect ever more data, and ever more personal, on users, and then sell targeted advertising.

As Amnesty International pointed out in its report of 2019 on the surveillance giants, Meta’s business model poses a serious threat to human rights, including the rights to privacy, freedom of expression and non-discrimination. This is a glaring omission in Meta’s assessment, as its business model is at the heart of its damaging human rights impact across the globe.

Many of the company’s human rights abuses stem from its need to keep users engaged and keep them active on its platforms. The pill may be hard to swallow, but how could Meta claim that it is committed to respecting human rights, especially the right to privacy, while continuing to trace users on the internet and in their lives? daily ?

Lack of algorithms

Further, the report fails to mention that the algorithms that shape content on Meta’s social media platforms actively amplify harmful content, including hate and discrimination, in order to keep users online and safe. earn additional advertising revenue.

Because of the design of these algorithms, Meta risks contributing to ethnically motivated violence around the world. UN experts have already found that the Facebook platform had played a role in the dehumanization of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar before and during the Burmese military’s campaign of violence in 2017.

In 2021, whistleblower Frances Haugen accused the algorithms of the Meta platform to “literally stir up ethnic violence” in countries like Ethiopia.

Given that the risks posed by these algorithms are greatly increased in countries in the Global South where Meta-owned platforms such as Facebook are synonymous with the Internet, it is extremely concerning that they do not feature in the Human Rights Report of Meta.

Lack of transparency on India

Meta has only published a summary of India’s long-awaited independent human rights impact assessment (HRIA) – an unacceptable decision, given that civil society organizations including Amnesty International , asked many times that the full report is published. This demonstrates the complete lack of transparency regarding the human rights risks identified and the fact that Meta minimizes them in the context of India. Researchers have already highlighted the role that the Facebook platform played a part in spreading hate in India – what we need to know is how Meta will ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Many elements show that Meta has a hard time tackling problematic content on Facebook, especially in the Global South. However, simply ignoring the problem will not make it go away. Meta should show its real desire to learn from the past and make public the human rights impact study on India.

This is all the more crucial in India, the country with the largest number of Facebook users. Transparency is essential in order to remedy the misdeeds of Meta’s economic model on a global level. There is little doubt that Meta refuses to publish this study to prevent the rest of the world from knowing the truth about its activities in the country.

Human rights risks are neither assessed nor reported

We welcome Meta’s strong commitment to respecting human rights in accordance with international standards, but the Human Rights Report does not address some of the company’s most pressing human rights impacts. In particular, the lack of transparency regarding the India study is an abhorrent tactic aimed at whiten Meta’s impacts in the country – as well as a missed opportunity for the company to demonstrate its real commitment to rights.

Meta must be prepared to grapple with the thorny issues surrounding its business model, in order to fully address the human rights risks posed by its platforms. Until that happens, its so-called efforts to uphold human rights will be more rhetoric than reality.

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