Acknowledging the recent Facebook hate speech controversy involving India’s public policy director, Ankhi Das, the Facebook Oversight Board has told The Quint, it “won't shy away” from “holding Facebook accountable”.
A Wall Street Journal news report on 14 August stated Das had blocked Facebook from applying hate speech restrictions on several Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leaders including T Raja Singh and Anantkumar Hegde.
The Oversight Board, comprising 20 independent expert members from around the world, including Sudhir Krishnaswamy from India, is an independent body that will adjudicate on cases related to content moderation.
Announced on 7 May as a measure to hold Facebook accountable on issues of hate speech, privacy and misinformation, the Board will have the last word on what content stays up and (eventually) what content comes down. The Board, however, is yet to begin hearing cases.
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”.
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”.
The WSJ report, quoting former and current employees, said Ankhi Das has provided the BJP with favourable treatment on election-related issues, including allowing hate speech posts by its leaders to stay up.
The Oversight Board, responding to The Quint’s question on whether it has taken note of the issue involving senior political leaders in India, said “how Facebook treats posts from public figures that may violate the Community Standards are within the scope of the Board”.
Acknowledging the complications involved in Facebook’s dealing with political speech and parties, the Board added these “are the type of highly challenging cases that the Board expects to consider when we begin operating”.
These challenges are illustrated in the WSJ piece which elaborates on the lobbying efforts by Das to keep the governments happy while also being responsible for maintaining rules of the platform.
According to WSJ report, Facebook employees told Wall Street Journal 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.
India’s Sudhir Krishnaswamy Part of Oversight Board
Sudhir Krishnaswamy, vice-Chancellor of the National Law School of India University in Bengaluru, is the only Indian on the Board that also includes Helle Thorning-Schmidt, former prime minister of Denmark, and Tawakkol Karman, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate from Yemen who came to prominence for her activism during the Arab Spring.
Alan Rusbridger, former editor-in-chief of The Guardian, who had handled the publication of the Edward Snowden leaks in 2013, is also a Board member.
In a detailed interview with The Quint on the roles and responsibilities of the newly formed Board, Krishnaswamy had said “You can expect transparency, you can expect articulate rationality. Because Facebook and Instagram are bound (by the decisions), you can expect accountability.”
For CEO Mark Zuckerberg, content policies and moderation, particularly those that are seen to constitute hate speech and misinformation, have been seen among the major failures of his company.
Dubbed as “the supreme court of Facebook”, the big question has been – how independent can the Board be?
“The Board is completely independent of the company. So, we engage only with each other. We don’t engage with anyone from the company. We are not bound by any other commercial or other considerations the company might have.”Dr Sudhir Krishnaswamy, Member, Facebook Oversight Board
Describing the Board as a “bold and interesting experiment”, Krishnaswamy said it is expected to begin adjudicating on cases by September-October once the internal protocols are decided.