A recent report by the American Wall Street Journal (WSJ) says that Facebook, through its top executive in India, allowed hate and anti-Muslim posts and remarks on its platform. Moreover, the top executive – Ankhi Das – refused to apply the company’s hate speech policies and rules towards the ruling BJP party politicos and other ‘Hindu nationalist’ leaders.
The social media giants on a daily basis face an upheaval task at policing various hate speech posts and content across its platform. However, the WSJ report highlights political considerations coming in the way of the company’s policing strategy in the country.
To put to perspective things, consider this. Political leader T. Raja Singh had said that Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslim traitors and he threatened to raze mosques.
Away from the hustle, Facebook employees closely monitored this, and in March this year, they settled that Singh not only violated the company’s hate-speech rules, but he also qualified as ‘dangerous’ – a designation which looks into the person’s off-platform activities and hence, he should be banned from the platform. However, Singh continues to still have his account active today, all because Ankhi Das opposed to applying the rules of hate-speech against Singh.
The WSJ report stated, “Ms. Das, whose job also includes lobbying India’s government on Facebook’s behalf, told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects.”
This intervention to avoid action against accounts that peddle hate-speech by Das is inclined towards Facebooks favouritism of the BJP and Hindu hard-liners in the country. Being the policy head for India, South and Central Asia, she oversees the team that decides what content is allowed on the social media platform.
Facebook however prohibits hate-speech globally without any inclination towards political affiliations. India is Facebook’s largest market in the world, with most users than any other country.
During the elections of 2019, the company removed pages that were inauthentic and those that had ties with the Pakistan’s military and the Congress too. However, pages linked with false news and those that had ties with the BJP were not removed, all because of Ms. Das intervention.
Kapil Mishra, who’s viral video allegedly led to the gruesome riots in Delhi this year, was mentioned indirectly by Zuckerberg as the exact type content that the social media giants wouldn’t tolerate. The video was taken down by Facebook. Also, misinformation posted by former minister and MP Anantkumar Hegde about Muslims spreading covid-19 was also noted in the WSJ report.
All this also explains how the ruling party has been very successful in its online campaigns in the virtual world. This development is also not the first to surface. A Bloomberg report of 2017 said that Facebook employees had become ‘de facto campaign workers’ helping Modi develop his online presence.
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor said that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology ‘would certainly wish to hear’ from Facebook about this report. Tharoor is the chairperson of the committee on Information Technology.
Meanwhile, Ankhi Das filed a written complaint to the Delhi Cyber Crime after she receiving multiple violent threats after the WSJ report was published.
Also, a political war has erupted in the country between the ruling BJP – who continue to defend Facebook – and the Congress party because of this. Congress meanwhile, has written to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg seeking an inquiry into Facebook India’s operations.