A week after allegations of opposing enforcement of hate-speech rules against BJP and other Hindutva leaders, Facebook India executive Ankhi Das has now been accused of posting messages in support of the 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. “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.
What is the Controversy?
The controversy began on 15 August, when The Wall Street Journal report alleged that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s public policy director for India, South and Central Asia, had blocked action against leaders associated with the BJP and other Hindutva groups.
One of the examples quoted in the article was of BJP MLA in Telangana Raja Singh. "Raja Singh had said Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to raze mosques. By March of this year, they concluded Mr Singh not only had violated the company’s hate-speech rules but qualified as dangerous, a designation that takes into account a person’s off-platform activities," the publication reported.
However, quoting employees of the company, WSJ reported that Ankhi Das told Facebook staff that punishing violations by BJP members “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.
Quoting The Wall Street Journal article, activist Saket Gokhale pointed out that the post which was initiated taken down, was restored later.
What is the Latest Development in the Controversy?
On Sunday, The Wall Street Journal published another article claiming to have accessed postings of Das on Facebook's internal communications systems that were ‘perceived to be openly supportive of the BJP’.
According to the report, a day before the BJP won the 2014 Parliamentary elections, Das had written: "We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.” She also wrote that Modi was the 'strongman' who had broken the former ruling party’s hold. "It’s taken thirty years of grassroots work to rid India of state socialism finally,” she wrote in another post about Indian National Congress (INC).
The Wall Street Journal also reported that Ankhi Das had trained the BJP for its social media campaign for the 2012 Assembly polls. After the training she wrote: ‘Success in our Gujarat Campaign’.
The report further added: "When a fellow staffer noted in response to one of her internal posts that the BJP’s primary opponent, the Indian National Congress, had a larger following on Facebook than Mr Modi’s individual page, Ms Das responded: 'Don’t diminish him by comparing him with INC. Ah well – let my bias not show!!!’”
How did Facebook Respond?
A Facebook spokesperson rejected the claim that Das' statements showed bias. "These posts are taken out of context and don’t represent the full scope of Facebook’s efforts to support the use of our platform by parties across the Indian political spectrum,” spokesman Andy Stone told The Wall Street Journal.
What are the Political Reactions?
Congress spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted that the article had revealed shocking details.
Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra tweeted, “FB is supposed to provide the court –NOT pick up a ball & start playing!”
Sanjay Jha, a former Congress spokesperson, tweeted, "This is a damning expose of Ankhi Das. You are entitled to your ideological preferences, but Facebook stands damaged for allowing her to subvert corporate policy. Worse, she allowed hate-speeches. #MarkZuckerberg owes India an explanation, not just the Congress. Game up!"
BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya launched a counter-attack, saying The Wall Street Journal missed Ankhi Das' statements supporting the AAP and Trinamool Congress.