Facebook's Crowds and Publics: Law, Virality and the Regulation of Hate Speech Online in Contemporary India

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Copyright: Arcot Ananth, Siddharth Narrain
A key feature of the material infrastructure of hate speech online on Facebook is virality – the rapid transmission of content over large distances through key nodes and actors on the platform. Virality is enabled by the bringing together of collectivities (crowds and publics) and connectivity provided by Facebook, which is accessed widely through Internet-enabled mobile phones. In contemporary India, increased connectivity provided by the material infrastructure of Facebook has reconfigured the relationship between crowds, publics and media, facilitated virality, and led to deadly illocutionary and perlocutionary effects such as inter-group violence and the subordination of minority groups. This thesis investigates how Facebook, through its content moderation policies and related institutional mechanisms and infrastructures, regulates the virality of hate speech online on the platform. Drawing on contemporary developments in India and the historical development of Indian hate speech doctrine, this thesis identifies emerging tensions between the global scale of hate speech regulation on Facebook and local context. These emerging tensions are visible in Facebook’s framing of its community standards on hate speech, and in the relationship between Facebook and national and subnational actors in India. These tensions are also visible in differences and contradictions in how actors who are part of Facebook’s governance model, including the Oversight Board, have approached the question of the regulation of hate speech online. This thesis employs mixed methods including a law-in-context reading of doctrine, documentary analysis and semi-structured interviews conducted with members of the Facebook Oversight Board, employees of Facebook and lawyers, academics and policy experts in the field. This thesis is part of a growing body of scholarship that examines the regulation of hate speech online and virality on Facebook through a non-United States and non-European lens.
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