Report on Facebook’s leniency to BJP members’ communal posts causes row
A report suggesting Facebook was going easy on hate speeches by members of ruling Bharatiya Janata Party became the subject of a political controversy on Saturday, with the Congress saying it had met and flagged similar concerns to a senior executive of the social media company who has been named in the story.
In an article published late on Friday, the Wall Street Journal cited interviews with unnamed Facebook insiders to claim that the company’s senior India policy executive Ankhi Das intervened in internal content review processes to stop a ban on BJP’s Telangana MLA T Raja Singh, who made communally charged posts targeting the Muslim community.
Das, the report added, “told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”. Facebook denied the allegation and said it was still reviewing whether it had to act against Singh. Das did not respond to requests for a comment.
“We had met Ankhi Das over the issue and raised our concerns regarding these matters,” said a senior member of Congress’s media team, who asked not to be named.
“This expose on Facebook comes as a shock because one expects companies like Facebook to be professionally run and managed. New facts are emerging exposing the close ties of important officials of Facebook India with the BJP. Democracy needs to be insulated from being sabotaged by such unholy collusion,” said Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera.
Facebook said its policies on such matters are unbiased. “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” a Facebook spokesperson said on queries relating to the claims in the WSJ story.
A BJP spokesperson declined to comment on the matter. A party functionary, who asked not to be named, said the BJP does not subscribe to the views of Singh and has distanced itself from comments that call for violence or are not in line with the party’s stance.
India is one of Facebook’s fastest growing markets and the company is estimated to have close to 350 million users by June this year. Instagram and WhatsApp, both owned by the California-based company, have hundreds of millions more users from India.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been under increasing pressure because there are concerns that they are not doing enough to crack down on fake news and hate speech. The controversy has particularly played out in the United States, where Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg has previously said that the company cannot be “an arbiter of truth” in response to criticism over the type of political content, which at one point also triggered a staff walk-out.
Shortly after the WSJ report was released, Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook India, wrote an internal memo to the company’s India operations staff defending Das. “This article does not reflect the person I know or the extraordinarily complex issues we face everyday that benefits from Ankhi and the Public Policy team’s expertise,” he said in the note, a copy of which has been seen by HT.