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Facebook refused to check hate speech by India's BJP fearing business fallout: WSJ report


Jul 15, 2015
Updated 15 Aug 2020

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi (L) is seen in this picture with Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook HQ in Menlo Park, California in 2015. — AP/File

An India right-wing politician who has called for violence against Muslims and threatened to raze mosques continues to remain active on Facebook and Instagram, even though officials at the social media giant had ruled earlier this year the lawmaker violated the company's hate-speech rules, the Wall Street Journal reported on Friday.

The move to not proceed against T. Raja Singh, a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, came after Facebook's top public-policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, the newspaper quoted current and former employees as saying.

According to the report, Facebook employees charged with policing the platform had concluded by March that Singh's rhetoric against Muslims and Rohingya immigrants online and offline not only violated hate-speech rules but he also qualified as "dangerous" for his words could lead to real-world violence against Muslims.

Yet, instead of following the officials' recommendation to permanently ban him from the platform, the company allowed Singh, a member of the Telangana Legislative Assembly, to remain active on Facebook and Instagram, where he has hundreds of thousands of followers.

The decision was influenced by Das, whose job also includes lobbying the Indian government on Facebook’s behalf, telling staff members that punishing violations by politicians from the BJP would "damage the company’s business prospects in the country", which is Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users, the exposé said.

The way Facebook has applied its hate-speech rules to prominent Hindu nationalists in India "suggests that political considerations also enter into the calculus" of policing hate speech, it added.

Current and former Facebook employees cited in the report said Das’s intervention on behalf of Singh is part of "a broader pattern of favouritism by Facebook toward Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners".

Responding to the allegations, a Facebook spokesman acknowledged that Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Singh a dangerous individual, but said her opposition "wasn’t the sole factor" in the company’s decision to let the lawmaker remain on the platform. The spokesman said Facebook is still considering whether a ban is warranted.

Facebook deleted some of Singh’s posts after the WSJ inquired about them. The company said the BJP lawmaker is no longer permitted to have an official, verified account, designated with a blue checkmark badge.

According to the report, the representative said Facebook bars hate speech and violence globally “without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation”, adding that the company took down content that praised violence during deadly protests in New Delhi earlier this year.

But a team overseen by Das that decides what content is allowed on Facebook took no action after BJP politicians posted content accusing Muslims of intentionally spreading the coronavirus, plotting against the nation and waging a “love jihad” campaign by seeking to marry Hindu women, a former employee was quoted as saying.

Das has allegedly also provided the BJP with favourable treatment on election-related issues and in 2017 wrote an essay praising Modi.

In April 2019, Facebook announced it had taken down inauthentic pages tied to the Pakistani military and India's Congress party. But it didn’t disclose it also removed pages with false news linked to the BJP due to Das's intervention, the report said.

It also said Facebook removed some of the posts by another BJP legislator, Anantkumar Hegde, who accused Muslims of spreading Covid-19 in the country as part of “Corona Jihad”, only after the WSJ asked the platform about them.

The report further reveals that Facebook also took down some of the controversial posts by former BJP lawmaker Kapil Mishra after the newspaper sought comment on them.

In February, Mishra in a speech had warned police that if they didn’t remove protesters demonstrating against a contentious citizenship law in India that excludes Muslim immigrants, his supporters would do so by force.

Not long after Mishra uploaded the video to Facebook, communal rioting broke out that left dozens of people dead, most of them Muslims. Some of these killings were organised via Facebook owned WhatsApp, according to court documents cited by the WSJ. Facebook removed the video post later.

Past allegations of foul play
While on the one hand Facebook refused to censor hate content by BJP lawmakers, a couple of years ago the social media giant had come under sharp criticism for censoring content by journalists and academics against Indian oppression and violence in the occupied state of Jammu and Kashmir.

In 2016, Facebook censored dozens of posts related to the death of Burhan Wani, a locally revered Kashmiri freedom fighter, reported
The Guardian. Photos, videos and entire accounts of academics and journalists as well as entire pages of local newspapers were removed for posting about the occupied valley. During that time, the Indian government had imposed curbs on newspapers but residents of occupied Kashmir complained that censoring posts on Facebook made information blackouts worse.

Due to limited access to newspapers and TV channels, journalists and news organisations would keep readers informed by updates on social media, until the social media giant started censoring news articles and updates about occupied Kashmir. The Facebook account of Kashmiri journalist Huma Dar, who is based in the United States, was deleted soon after she posted pictures of Wani's funeral. She was told that she had "violated community standards" when she wrote to the company.

"The biggest irony is that I get death threats, I get people saying they’ll come and rape me and my mother. None of those people, even when I complain to Facebook, have ever been censored," she told The Guardian.


Mar 25, 2008
United Arab Emirates
Basically it is dancing with financial interests - it does not based on any ideology. This is material world and there is no exception of any country, race or religion. Everyone safeguards their own interests.


Aug 19, 2011
That's been blatantly obvious for years. They get ideological and political backwind from the U.S. regime too. Just like the U.S. press throws a splinter of a bone like this ever now and then only to collect dust in some archives for plausible deniability as part of the usual scheme, while it just continues.

Their "free speech" platforms are a sham and a treadmil meant to waste your ressources and efforts while you play in their palms. Private companies that have served U.S. interests spreading anti-China propaganda lies are now getting flagged as Chinese state actors because of some loans from Chinese banks financing their offshore enterprises, while U.S. government owned and funded agencies and agents posing as "international human rights organizations", "domestic Arab newspapers" and "local Hong Kong activists" get away scotsfree.


Jul 15, 2015

Reuters |19 Aug 2020

Ankhi Das, Facebook's Public Policy Director for India, South & Central Asia, is seen on her Facebook page in this illustration picture taken August 19, 2020. — Reuters

Facebook and its top lobbying executive in India, Ankhi Das, are facing questions internally from employees over how political content is regulated in its biggest market, according to sources with direct knowledge and internal posts seen by Reuters.

The world's largest social network is battling a public relations and political crisis in India after the Wall Street Journal reported that Das opposed applying the company's hate-speech rules to a politician from Prime Minister Narendra Modi's party who had in posts called Muslims traitors.

In the United States and around the world, Facebook employees are raising questions about whether adequate procedures and content regulation practices were being followed by the India team, sources familiar with discussions told Reuters.

An open letter written to Facebook's leadership by 11 employees on one internal platform, and seen by Reuters, demands company leaders acknowledge and denounce “anti-Muslim bigotry” and ensure more policy consistency.

The letter also demanded that Facebook's “policy team in India [and elsewhere] include diverse representation”.

It is hard not to feel frustrated and saddened by the incidents reported ... We know we're not alone in this. Employees across the company are expressing similar sentiment,” said the letter. “The Muslim community at Facebook would like to hear from Facebook leadership on our asks.”

Facebook and Das did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Facebook has been under fire in recent years for its lax approach to fake news content, state-backed disinformation campaigns and violent content spread via its platforms.

The WSJ article said Das had told staff that applying hate-speech rules to politicians close to Modi's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “would damage the company's business prospects in the country”.

Following the report, in response to Reuters queries on the matter, Facebook said it prohibits hate speech that incites violence and enforces policies without regard to political position or party affiliation.

While we know there is more to do, we're making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits,” said the company, which has more than 300 million users in India.

One of the sources said Facebook's India leadership will have to answer tough questions on what really happened, “There will be scrutiny on what really went down.”

A second source familiar with the reactions said Facebook employees were discussing whether there should be strict separation between government relations and content policy teams, and there is “an internal debate happening about the [content moderation] processes”.

After the article, Facebook India head Ajit Mohan defended Das, whose title is Director, Public Policy, India, South & Central Asia, and the company's policies in an internal community post, also seen by Reuters.

The WSJarticle does not reflect the person I know or the extraordinarily complex issues we face every day that benefits from Ankhi and the Public Policy team's expertise”, Mohan wrote.

Mohan also wrote the company is “confident that the article's claim that political affiliations influence decision making in India is inaccurate and without merit”. A spokesman for the WSJ did not respond to a request for comment.

India's opposition Congress Party has called for a parliamentary probe into Facebook, while BJP lawmakers in turn have accused Facebook of censoring nationalist voices.

Das, 49, is considered among India's most influential corporate lobbying executives and has been central to Facebook's rise in India since joining the company in 2011.

She has created a niche for herself [in India],” said a person who has worked closely with Das on policy issues.

One former Facebook executive in Asia and a former Indian government official described Das as very sharp and politically connected. A second former employee said Das has always been outspoken about issues in the company.

Das hasn't commented on the controversy, but her sister Rashmi, who has publicly acknowledged her own ties to a student wing close to the BJP, told the India Today TV on Tuesday, “we sisters are made of very stern stuff.

I'm sure Ankhi will handle it very competently,” she said.

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