Restrictions on hate speech and inflammatory media content on Facebook have been a point of debate ever since the social media giant announced it would ‘police’ posts of US President Donald Trump.
The move came in the wake of the nationwide protests in the US over the killing of George Floyd, a Black man, when he was being arrested by police.
Facebook has faced heat in other countries also over inflammatory content. On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that a senior Facebook executive, who oversaw operations in India, had blocked action against leaders associated with the BJP and other Hindutva groups.
Ankhi Das is public policy director, Facebook, for India, South and Central Asia since 2011. The Wall Street Journal reported Das had a role of overseeing “a team that decides what content is allowed on the platform”.
The Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook employees had flagged inflammatory posts by T. Raja Singh. Raja Singh, a BJP MLA in Telangana, is no stranger to provocative speeches.
The Wall Street Journal reported that in Facebook posts, “T. Raja Singh has 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, according to current and former Facebook employees,” the publication added.
However, Ankhi Das “opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Mr. Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
Ankhi Das told Facebook staff that punishing violations by BJP members “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”, The Wall Street Journal quoted current and former Facebook employees as saying. Das’s job includes lobbying the Indian government. India is Facebook’s largest market by number of users.
“A Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, acknowledged that Ms. Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Mr. Singh a dangerous individual, but said her opposition wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Mr. Singh remain on the platform,” The Wall Street Journal reported.
The spokesperson added Facebook was still debating whether a ban on Raja Singh was warranted. Following questions from The Wall Street Journal, Facebook apparently removed some controversial posts from Raja Singh’s account and also revoked his ‘verified’ status (signified by a blue tick). Facebook apparently removed some posts by another controversial BJP leader, Karnataka MP Anantakumar Hegde, on Thursday. The Wall Street Journal had sought comments from Facebook about posts by Hegde on ‘corona jihad’.
The team headed by Das “took no action after BJP politicians posted content accusing Muslims of intentionally spreading the coronavirus, plotting against the nation and waging a ‘love jihad’ campaign by seeking to marry Hindu women,” a former Facebook employee told The Wall Street Journal.
The publication added Das also gave the BJP favourable treatment on election issues. “In April of last year, days before voting began in India’s general election, Facebook announced it had taken down inauthentic pages tied to Pakistan’s military and the Congress party, the BJP’s main rival party. But it didn’t disclose it also removed pages with false news tied to the BJP, because Ms. Das intervened,” former employees of Facebook told The Wall Street Journal.
Ankhi Das is a prominent public speaker and columnist. In 2017, she wrote an essay, Prime Minister Modi and the new art of Public Governance, praising Narendra Modi. The essay is published on Modi’s personal website.