Shivnath Thukral — FB’s Stand-In For Ankhi Das Also Close to BJP
A TIME magazine investigation had reported that Thukral, too, had ignored hate speech violations by BJP leaders.
Shivnath Thukral has worn many hats over the last two decades. Following the resignation of Facebook India’s policy director Ankhi Das on Tuesday, 27 October, 48-year-old Thukral is set to wear an old hat once again as interim head of public policy at Facebook.
Thukral, who is currently serving as WhatsApp’s public policy director in India, was Facebook’s public policy director for India and South Asia between November 2017 and March 2020. According to reports, he will be taking over Das’ role for the interim period till a full-time executive comes on board.
For many, Thukral is a familiar face from television. He was managing editor at NDTV Profit and the face of the network’s business and markets news. Having moved on from television, Thukral, a graduate of Delhi School of Economics, went on to lead Essar’s corporate strategy for seven years. He also served as managing director at Carnegie India, a global think tank.
His association with Facebook began in 2017. As public policy director, a part of Thukral’s job was also lobbying the government. He was also involved in decision-making about content moderation policies around hate speech by political leaders.
His tenure at Facebook has seen its share of major controversies and allegations of pro-BJP bias. A TIME magazine report in August detailed how Thukral ignored key hate speech and fake news violations targeting minority communities and allowed them to stay on.
With Das’ departure, Thukral once again returns to the same role.
Stint in US Senate
Shivnath is a graduate of the Delhi School of Economics. After a few years at NDTV, he went to the United States to study communications. He has a post-graduate degree from the Southern Illinois University.
Thukral gained experience in policy matter and US national politics when he interned on Capitol Hill in the office of Senator Richard Durbin of Illinois.
Headed NDTV Profit
Thukral has served as one of the leading television anchors and business analysts at NDTV where he played a prominent role in the growth of the news network.
Having spent 15 years in NDTV, Shivnath was the channel’s most recognisable face for business news and policy analysis and also established the business channel NDTV Profit in 2003.
According to his LinkedIn bio, in his role as Group Editor for Business in NDTV, he interacted with prominent personalities including Bill Gates, Hillary Clinton, Christine Lagarde, Tony Blair, Manmohan Singh, P Chidambaram, Richard Branson, LN Mittal, Mukesh Ambani and Ratan Tata.
He quit his role as NDTV’s Group Business Editor and Advisor in 2009 to move into the corporate world.
Strategy Head at Essar
Shivnath moved on to join Essar, a $39 billion corporation as its Group President of Corporate Branding & Strategic Initiatives. At Essar, according to his professional bio, he led branding, strategic and digital communications as well as critical government affairs assignments for the group across the globe.
He also led the internal and external digital communications strategy for Essar and was responsible for all content across all social & other platforms.
During his time at Essar, in 2012, he was selected as an Eisenhower Fellow, a program run out of Philadelphia, United States chaired by former US Secretary of State, Colin Powell.
“He spent 8 weeks across 9 American cities exploring the changing relationship between government and corporations in a fast changing social media landscape which demands greater transparency from organisations,” his LinkedIn bio states.
Facebook & WhatsApp
Thukral joined Facebook as its public policy director in November 2017 before moving on to WhatsApp (owned by Facebook) as its full time public policy director in March 2020.
Two weeks after The Wall Street Journal published a report detailing how Ankhi Das failed to take action against hate speech being spread by leaders of the BJP on its platform, an investigation by TIME magazine claimed Thukral also ignored hate speech violations in 2019.
The TIME report mentions that the then Facebook’s public policy director for India and South Asia, Shivnath Thukral, ignored some of the key violations that were pointed out by Avaaz.
As per the TIME report, Shiladitya Dev, an Assamesee lawmaker for PM Modi’s BJP, shared a news report about a girl being allegedly drugged and raped by a Muslim man in 2019. He added his own comment to the post: “This is how Bangladeshi Muslims target our [native people] in 2019.”
Facebook didn’t remove that post and allowed it to remain online for more than a year after it had been flagged by Awaaz. It was only removed after TIME contacted Facebook to ask about it on 21 August.
“We failed to remove upon initial review, which was a mistake on our part,” Facebook said.
Proximity to BJP & Controversy
The TIME report echoes some of the points highlighted by the WSJ report about Facebook India’s ties with the ruling party.
To start with, the TIME report points out that Shivnath Thukral had worked with the BJP leadership to assist in the party’s 2014 election campaign.
Facebook employees told TIME that the reason Thukral was hired in 2017 was due to his close ties with the BJP. The article talks about how Thukral, in the 2014 elections, worked with senior party officials to help run a pro-BJP website and Facebook page.
Now, Thukral is WhatsApp’s India public policy director with the responsibility of managing the company’s relationship with the ruling government.
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