Facebook Details Human Rights Impact Assessments in Cambodia, Indonesia, Sri Lanka

The social network outlined learnings and steps it has taken as a result

Facebook took steps to formalize an approach to determine which countries require more investment - Credit by Shane_D_Rymer/iStock
Headshot of David Cohen

Facebook shared results this week from human rights impact assessments it commissioned in 2018 to evaluate the role of its services in Cambodia, Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Director of human rights Miranda Sissons and product policy manager, human rights Alex Warofka said in a Newsroom post, “Freedom of expression is a foundational human right that allows for the free flow of information. We’re reminded how vital this is, in particular, as the world grapples with Covid-19, and accurate and authoritative information is more important than ever. Human rights defenders know this and fight for these freedoms every day. For Facebook, which stands for giving people voice, these rights are core to why we exist.”

Sissons and Warofka said that since this research was conducted, Facebook took steps to formalize an approach to determine which countries require more investment, including increased staffing, product changes and further research.

The company also committed to extending end-to-end encryption across all of its messaging products.

Facebook worked with BSR on the assessment of its role in Cambodia, and with Article One for Indonesia and Sri Lanka. Sissons and Warofka shared recommendations that were similar across all three reports:

  • Improving corporate accountability around human rights.
  • Updating community standards and improving enforcement.
  • Investing in changes to platform architecture to promote authoritative information and reduce the spread of abusive content.
  • Improving reporting mechanisms and response times.
  • Engaging more regularly and substantively with civil society organizations.
  • Increasing transparency so that people better understand Facebook’s approach to content, misinformation and News Feed ranking.
  • Continuing human rights due diligence.

Sissons and Warofka also detailed specific steps that have been taken in the three countries where assessments were conducted.

Distribution of frequently reshared messages was reduced in Sri Lanka, as they are often associated with clickbait and misinformation.

Due to the pervasiveness of government surveillance of internet and social media use in Cambodia, the company expanded ways for users to keep their accounts secure and encouraged people to opt for authenticator applications for more secure two-factor authentication, rather than relying on SMS.

Key updates to the social network’s community standards included a policy to remove verified misinformation that contributes to the risk of imminent physical harm, as well as protections for vulnerable groups (veiled women, LGBTQ+ individuals, human rights activists) who would run the risk of offline harm if they were “outed.”

Facebook also developed machine learning capabilities in the Sinhala and Bahasa Indonesia languages to detect hate speech, and it expanded policies against voter interference prior to elections in Indonesia and Sri Lanka last year, with Cambodians heading to the polls in 2022 and 2023.

On the hiring front, policy leads and program managers were added in all three countries, along with content reviewers fluent in languages including Bahasa Indonesia, Javanese, Khmer, Sinhala and Tamil.

Engagement with civil society organizations was formalized, and local fact-checking partnerships were bolstered in Indonesia and Sri Lanka.

Sissons and Warofka concluded, “As we work to protect human rights and mitigate the adverse impacts of our platform, we have sought to communicate more transparently and build trust with rights holders. We also aim to use our presence in places like Sri Lanka, Indonesia and Cambodia to advance human rights, as outlined in the United Nations Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights and in Article One and BSR’s assessments. In particular, we are deeply troubled by the arrests of people who have used Facebook to engage in peaceful political expression, and we will continue to advocate for freedom of expression and stronger protections of user data.”


david.cohen@adweek.com David Cohen is editor of Adweek's Social Pro Daily.