As Ankhi Das Quits, a Timeline of Her Hate Speech Controversy
A Wall Street Journal report revealed Ankhi Das, Facebook India’s policy head, had shielded hate speech by a BJP MLA
Ankhi Das, South Asia public policy director for Facebook, has quit the company to “pursue her interest in public service.” Das was one of the oldest employees of Facebook in india, having served the company for nine years until she resigned on Tuesday, 27 October.
“Ankhi has decided to step down from her role in Facebook to pursue her interest in public service. Ankhi was one of our earliest employees in India and played an instrumental role in the growth of the company and its services over the last 9 years,” Facebook's Managing Director India Ajit Mohan said in an e-mailed statement.
Her resignation comes two months after a Wall Street Journal report claimed that Das had blocked Facebook from applying hate speech restrictions on several BJP leaders including Raja Singh, Anant Kumar Hegde and Kapil Mishra.
She was also accused of posting messages in support of the BJP for several years on an internal Facebook group for company employees.
Here’s a timeline of events from 14 August when the WSJ report appeared to 27 October when she tendered her resignation.
Das Accused of Shielding BJP MLA’s Hate Speech
Between 14 August and 1 September, a string of major allegations emerged against Facebook’s India operations and its top executives.
Wall Street Journal’s report on 14 August claimed that despite the insistence of Facebook’s employees – responsible for policing the platform – to permanently ban the profile of BJP MP from Hyderabad T Raja Singh for promoting hate speech, the company’s top Public Policy Executive in India, Das, blocked applying hate speech rules to Singh.
Pro-BJP Messages in Internal Facebook Groups
Weeks after allegations of opposing enforcement of hate speech rules against BJP and other Hindutva leaders, Das had also been accused of posting messages in support of the ruling BJP for several years on a Facebook group of the company’s employees.
According to a Wall Street Journal report, her posts had even detailed her efforts to help the saffron party win the 2014 national elections. The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) accessed postings of Das on Facebook's internal communications systems that were perceived to be openly supportive of the BJP.
The report further stated, quoting “current and former employees,” that Das allegedly told “staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr (Narendra) Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users.”
“We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history,” she wrote on the group. “It’s taken thirty years of grassroots work to rid India of state socialism finally,” read another post by her.
‘Death Threats’ to Ankhi Das
The WSJ report created political outrage and led to outcry for her ouster among people in India and around the world. Ankhi Das allegedly received derogatory comments and death threats on social media. She filed a criminal complaint at Delhi Police’s Cyber Cell Unit against a number of people for allegedly issuing her violent life threats.
In her complaint she said,“I have been receiving violent threats to my life and body, and I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me by the accused persons,” Das’ criminal complaint read.
Among those named in her complaint was journalist Awesh Tiwari, who, she said had threatened her on Facebook on 16 August. The Chhattisgarh-based journalist, who is the state bureau chief of news channel Swaraj Express, had strongly denied the allegations.
FIR against Das
Chhattisgarh’s Raipur Police had registered an FIR against Das on a slew of charges under the Indian Penal Code, including outraging religious feelings and incitement to violence.
On 17 August, a complaint was filed by Chhattisgarh-based journalist Awesh Tiwari, which alleged that Das had “pressured her employees to not take down several hate speech posts prior to the Lok Sabha elections.”
This was done “to make political gains in the Indian market”, Tiwari had told The Quint.
According to the FIR, Tiwari said that on 16 August, he put up a post on his Facebook account related to an article published in the Wall Street Journal.
Tiwari reported that “two Facebook users, with names Sahu and Sinha, jumped in to defend Das and commented on his (Tiwari’s) post that she (Das) is a Hindu and she is talking in the interest of the faith. Sahu allegedly posted derogatory and communally sensitive photographs and also threatened him.”
He also alleged that Das, Sahu and Sinha were trying to defame him by spreading religious hatred and that he has been receiving threat messages and calls over WhatsApp.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone in a statement said, “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position/party affiliation. We’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”
Facebook Oversight Board Weighs In
Acknowledging the controversy involving Ankhi Das, the Facebook Oversight Board told The Quint it “won't shy away” from “holding Facebook accountable”.
The Oversight Board, comprising 20 independent expert members from around the world, including Sudhir Krishnaswamy from India, is an independent body that has set up to adjudicate on cases related to content moderation.
The Board emphasised that it is “committed to protecting users and holding Facebook accountable” as it is “empowered to make binding and independent decisions on many of the most challenging content issues on Facebook and Instagram”.
Responding to The Quint’s question on such issues falling within the Board’s purview, the Board said “hate speech is included in this and we won’t shy away from the tough cases and holding Facebook accountable”
Das Appears Before Parliament Panel
Recently, Das had appeared in front of a parliamentary panel on India’s Data Protection Bill, 2019. She was quizzed over Facebook's earnings in India and what part of the revenue is spent towards safeguarding data protection in the country.
Last month, Facebook India head Mohan, too, had appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information and Technology headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, on the alleged misuse of social media platforms.
India is Facebook's largest global market with over 290 million Facebook users. Das led the company's Public Policy in India, South and Central Asia for almost nine years. Specifically, she handled the data security, privacy and safety efforts in India.
Das was working at Microsoft India as its Director of Public Policy, Legal and Corporate Affairs before being appointed to a top role in Facebook,
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