Facebook is training its staff to identify inflammatory content

Three months after Sri Lanka was rocked by deadly anti-Muslim riots fuelled by online vitriol, Facebook is training its staff to identify inflammatory content in the country’s local languages, AFP reported.

The social network has been seeking penance in Sri Lanka after authorities blocked Facebook in March as incendiary posts by Buddhist hardliners fanned religious violence that left three people dead and reduced hundreds of mosques, homes and businesses to ashes.

Until the week-long ban, appeals to Facebook to act against the contagion of hate speech had been met with deafening silence, at a time when the California-based tech giant was reeling from unprecedented global scrutiny over fake news and user privacy.

“We did make mistakes and we were slow,” Facebook spokeswoman Amrit Ahuja told AFP in Colombo.

The dearth of staff fluent in Sinhala – the language spoken by Sri Lanka’s largest ethnic group – compounded the issue, with government officials and activists saying the oversight allowed extremist content to flourish undetected on the platform.

Ahuja said Facebook was committed to hiring more Sinhala speakers but declined to say how many were currently employed in Sri Lanka.

“This is the problem we are trying to address with Facebook. They need more Sinhala resources”, said the island’s telecommunications minister Harin Fernando.

Since the violence broke out in March, two high-level delegations from the company have visited Sri Lanka, where ethnic divisions linger after decades of war, to assure the government of its intent.

Ahuja said Facebook was working with civil society organisations to familiarise its staff with Sinhala slurs and racist epithets.

Complex local nuances have added to the challenge. The word for “brother” in Tamil – also an official language in the country – can be a derogatory term in Sinhala when a slight inflection is used.

Ahuja said Facebook has since taken down “hate figures and organisations” in Sri Lanka including the Bodu Bala Sena, a radical Buddhist outfit that is blamed for attacks against Muslims in recent years.

SLCERT gets 900 Facebook related complaints in four months

Sri Lanka Computer Emergency Readiness Team (SLCERT) yesterday said that it had recorded 900 Facebook related complaints since April this year.

SLCERT Media Spokesman and Senior Information Security Engineer Roshan Chandragupta told The Island that 80 percent of the complaints were related to Facebook and about fake accounts.

The SLCERT has recorded 3,900 complaints last year, out of which 3,600 were related to Facebook. In 2016 there were 2,350 complaints, of which 2,200 were related to Facebook.

“When SLCERT received a complaint about fake Facebook account, the team advised the complainant to report it to Facebook and the team also did likewise. After considering the reports, usually Facebook removes such accounts from its network,” Chandragupta said.

Chandragupta said the team could give technical support for those who wanted to make complaints to Facebook or to recover a hacked account. But if an individual wanted to identify who the hacker was and take legal action, then the complainant was directed to get a police report and file a lawsuit.

However, it was reported that the Facebook had disabled about 583 million fake accounts during the first three months of this year. Along with fake accounts, it had removed 21 million pieces of content featuring sex or nudity, 2.5 million pieces of hate speech and almost two million items related to terrorism by Al-Qaeda and the Islamic State in the first quarter of 2018.

According to Internet World Stats, in Sri Lanka there were 5.5 million Facebook subscribers at the end of last year. As of the first quarter of 2018, Facebook had 2.19 billion monthly active users in the world while the highest number of Facebook users was from India; it was 270 million as of April 2018.

Hackers transfer US$13 mn from businessmen via emails: CERT

The Computer Emergency Readiness Team | Co-ordination Centre (CERT|CC) said yesterday they had received complaints about fraudsters hacking into email accounts of businessmen and transferring funds worth more than US$13 million during past five months.

CERT|CC Principal Information Security Engineer Roshan Chandragupta said many people had fallen prey to one of the latest techniques where people’s accounts were hacked. They have been requested to change their bank account details due to a change of supplier details.

“Many victims of this scam have suffered huge losses. The fraudsters learn from stolen emails the transactions between the seller and consignor as well as the buyer and paying company. Masquerading as the company, these fraudsters later generate emails requesting their client to credit the amount payable to a new account, claiming that the email address and payment receiving bank account number have been changed. It is only when the buyer contacts the bank that he or she finds they have been deceived. Recipients of these fictitious emails should be cautious as they look genuine. They should be careful when exchanging confidential details via emails. If anyone receives such emails, it is advisable to contact the bank or seller to verify.

Mr. Chandragupta requested people to be vigilant with what was said in the email conversations and to keep update usual contacts with the recipients’ ordinary telephone numbers.

“There were some who felt suspicious over their incoming emails. They had made telephone calls to the relevant recipients or the companies about the suspicious emails and managed to save their money,” he said. “People always should keep in mind to read the contents of their received email. The email addresses cannot be duplicated but making small changes such as changing a letter can make email addresses lookalike with the originals.”

Mr. Chandragupta said some people check their emails after the goods ordered were not received and call the telephone numbers they had earlier contacted but by then it was too late and all the payments have been made.