Facebook Inaction on BJP Netas’ Hate Speech: What Happened So Far?

A WSJ report exposes how political affiliations have had bearing on the implementation of policies by Facebook.

Updated
India
4 min read
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Despite the insistence of Facebook Inc employees – responsible for policing the platform – to permanently ban the profile of BJP MP T Raja Singh for promoting hate speech, the company’s top Public Policy Executive in India, Ankhi Das, blocked applying hate speech rules to Singh, an investigative report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) revealed on Friday, 14 August.

In a nearly 1,700-word report titled ‘Facebook’s Hate Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics,’ WSJ investigated how political affiliations have had bearing on the implementation of policies by Facebook in India.

However, Singh is not the only BJP leader Das opposed applying hate speech rules to. She never initiated action against at least three other Hindu nationalist groups and individuals who had been flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, the report said, citing current and former employees of Facebook.

Das, who joined Facebook in 2011, is the public policy head for India, South and Central Asia. She oversees a team that decides what content is allowed on the platform, a former employee told the Wall Street Journal.

These employees told WSJ that Das had blocked the idea by telling staff members that punishing violations by politicians from PM Narendra Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in India.

What BJP’s Singh, Hegde and Mishra Said

Listing the problematic posts, the report points out how Singh had said Rohingya Muslims should be shot, threatened to raze mosques and called Muslims traitors. The policing team of Facebook concluded by March 2020 that not only did Singh violate hate speech rules but he deserved to be designated ‘dangerous’. Being called dangerous takes into account a person’s activities away from Facebook as well, the report quoted company sources as saying.

They argued that his rhetoric, given the communally sensitive environment of India, could lead to real-world violence and that he should be permanently banned from the company’s platforms worldwide. But despite concerns, Singh continues to be active on social media, with thousands of followers.

Another BJP legislator, a Member of Parliament named Anantkumar Hegde, has repeatedly posted alleging Muslims are spreading COVID-19 to wage “Corona Jihad”.

While Twitter suspended Hegde’s account after these, Facebook took no action on the “Corona Jihad” posts till the time Wall Street Journal sought a comment from the company. Following which, Facebook removed some of the posts on Thursday.

Hegde didn’t respond to a request for comment by Wall Street Journal.

Similarly, in February earlier this year, former BJP lawmaker Kapil Mishra gave a speech in the middle of a crowd in northeast Delhi stating that if the police did not clear a road blockade by anti-CAA protesters, his supporters would do so by force. Within hours of his speech, riots broke out.

Mishra acknowledged that Facebook had removed the video, which he said hadn’t prompted any violence. Facebook took down some of Mishra’s posts on Thursday after the Wall Street Journal sought comment.

‘Das Provided BJP Favourable Treatment’

The report states how Das provided the BJP favourable treatment on election-related issues. A case in point is how just days before voting began for the Lok Sabha polls in April 2019, Facebook announced the inauthentic pages it had pulled down. This included pages tied down to Pakistan’s military as well as the Congress.

However, in their announcement, Facebook did not disclose that it had also removed pages with false news tied to the BJP.

India a Vital Market for Facebook

India, with its huge population, has the largest number of Facebook and WhatsApp users in the world. The WSJ report highlights how the social media giant has also decided to use the market in India to introduce plans like payments and encryption.

Facebook’s former chief security officer, Alex Stamos, spoke to WSJ and explained the conflict from within the organisation. He said:

“A core problem at Facebook is that one policy org is responsible for both the rules of the platform and keeping governments happy.”

He was speaking about another Wall Street Journal report regarding executives of Facebook halting internal efforts to make the site less divisive in the US amid concerns that changes may be perceived as behaving in a partisan manner.

The report shows how this intervention by Das is part of a larger pattern of favouritism by Facebook towards Modi’s BJP as well Hindu hard-liners. 

‘Enforce Policies Without Regard to Party Affiliation’: Facebook Spokesperson

On Monday, amid a political storm over the WSJ report, a Facebook spokesperson said, "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."

Earlier, Facebook spokesman Andy Stone acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal that Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result if Singh had been designated dangerous. However, Stone added that Das’ comments were not the sole reason to allow Singh to remain on Facebook.

Stone added that they were still considering whether a ban is warranted or not.

Stone also said Facebook prohibits hate speech and violence globally “without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation,” adding that it took down content that praised violence earlier this year during deadly protests in New Delhi.

Ankhi Das Alleges Threat to Life Amid Row

Amid a political storm over the WSJ report, Ankhi Das on Monday, 17 August, filed a complaint at the Cyber Cell Unit in Delhi against a number of people for allegedly issuing violent threats online, news agency ANI reported.

Das, in her complaint, reportedly identified a few Twitter accounts which, according to her, issued the threats.

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