Meta has released its first yearly human rights report, and you might not be shocked by the angle the company is taking. As CNBC notes, the 83-page document outlines the Facebook parent’s handling of human rights issues during 2020 and 2021, with a strong focus on justifying the company’s strategies for combatting misinformation and harassment. Meta said that its approaches to fighting health misinformation (in light of COVID-19), implicit threats and similar problems reflected a “balance” between freedom of expression and other rights, such as life, security and elections.
The report also outlined Meta’s bid to prevent rights abuses with its Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses. The company said studied both the privacy risks and potential harms to vulnerable groups, such as women, children and minorities. Meta touted its privacy protections elsewhere, including end-to-end WhatsApp message encryption that now includes chat backups.
The text won’t satisfy critics of Meta’s responses to misinformation and violence in India, however. The social media giant only provided a summary of an independent human rights impact assessment for India, noting that law firm Foley Hoag found the “potential” for Facebook, WhatsApp and other platforms to be linked to incendiary speech and safety threats. Meta made changes that included stronger local moderation teams and crackdowns against coordinated harm and hate speech. The company didn’t provide the full report, though, and didn’t commit to implementing Foley Hoag’s recommendations.
There are other holes. The India study didn’t touch on allegations of biased content moderation. You also won’t find any meaningful discussion of the metaverse — Meta didn’t announce its pivot until October 2021, leaving little opportunity for AR and VR to make an impact on the human rights report. Any substantial update will have to wait until 2023. Even so, it’s notable that Meta is acknowledging rights concerns more directly than it has in the past.
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