Facebook ignored hate speech rules on BJP-linked posts to protect its business: WSJ report

Facebook’s top public policy executive “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting violence”

FP Staff August 16, 2020 17:43:01 IST
Facebook ignored hate speech rules on BJP-linked posts to protect its business: WSJ report

A top Facebook India official turned a blind eye to hate speech by a BJP leader and three other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” to avoid damaging the social media platform’s business prospects, The Wall Street Journal reported.

The newspaper reported that citing business imperatives, Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, is “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.”

Das, the public policy director of Facebook’s India, South and Central Asia division since 2011, has the task of overseeing “a team that decides what content is allowed on the platform”, the WSJ reported in its article entitled Facebook's Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics.

The WSJ report referred to a hate speech — calling for violence against minorities — allegedly by Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh, a BJP MLA in the Telangana Assembly who has made communally provocative statements. “The current and former Facebook employees said Das’ intervention on behalf of Singh is part of a broader pattern of favoritism by Facebook toward Mr Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners,” as per the WSJ report.

The article triggered a heated exchange between Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and the Centre. While Rahul alleged that the BJP and the RSS "control Facebook and WhatsApp" and use the platforms to influence the electorate, Union Minister for Communications, Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad hit back, saying that access to information has been democratised and was no longer controlled by the Gandhi family.

"The BJP and RSS control Facebook and Whatsapp in India," Rahul said, adding that that they use the platforms to spread "fake news and hatred" and influence the electorate.

Countering the allegation, Prasad referred to the Cambridge Analytica controversy, where a whistle-blower had named the Congress and claimed that the Congress was 'hurt' as it had lost its control over access to information.

"You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to weaponise data before the elections and now have the gall to question us?," he said.

As per Indian Express, the policy referred to by some Facebook India employees to flag Singh’s alleged posts is the “Dangerous Individuals and Organisations” policy. Under this, content that praises or supports activity such as “organizes hate”, “mass murder”, “hate crimes”, or “terrorist attacks” is banned.

Sources told the newspaper Facebook had, in March, labelled the communal riots in Northeast Delhi in February as a “hate crime” under this policy. The process involved local flagging and a decision made with the global team, they further said.

Singh, contacted by Indian Express, claimed he did not personally post any of the content mentioned in the report and that his page was taken down. “Facebook did not communicate with us when they took down our official page in 2018. Now, many different supporters across the country have been making pages in my name. We cannot stop anyone. We do not have control,” Singh said. There are at least eight pages and profiles in Singh’s name, as per the newspaper.

Das remained unavailable for comment, according to Indian Express.

Facebook told The Print it rejected the notion that political compulsions were a factor in its decision-making. Facebook said it prohibits “hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation”, as per The Print.

Facebook has close to 300 million users in India, with WhatsApp accounting for another 400 million subscribers.

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