An article in the Wall Street Journal accusing Facebook of overlooking infringements of its own hate-speech policies in India fearing a backlash from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), has triggered a major political row in the country.
The story, titled 'Facebook's Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics', published on August 14, 2020 stated that Facebook India's Public Policy head Ankhi Das advised the platform against taking action against hate speech by members of the BJP, to avoid "damaging the company's business prospects in the country".
This matter has now turned into a major political storm in the country, with opposition members and Union cabinet ministers sparring on Twitter.
A spokesperson for Facebook did not respond till the time of publication. BOOM is part of Facebook's third-party fact-checking program, which is separate from Facebook's content moderation policies that WSJ's article talks about.
"Damage The Company's Business Prospects"
According to the WSJ article, Das told Facebook employees that "punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi's party would damage the company's business prospects in the country."
The article said that employees had flagged a Facebook post about Rohingya Muslims by T Raja - a BJP MLA from Telangana- as possible incitement to violence and found him falling under the company's "Dangerous Individuals and Organizations" policy, which would result in a permanent ban from the platform. His page, however, still remains.
WSJ further alleged that the company removed questionable posts by Raja only after it was approached for comments for the article. Raja, in turn, denied any wrongdoings and claimed that his account was hacked in 2018.
BJP MP Ananthkumar Hegde from Karnataka and party member Kapil Mishra from Delhi, also had several posts from their respective pages removed by Facebook, after the company was approached for comments by the publication, the WSJ article said. It was mentioned in the article that both Mishra and Hegde have a history of disseminating hate speech on social media.
In February, Mishra gave a highly publicised speech in presence of law enforcement, to warn that if the demonstrations against a new amendment to the citizenship act were not cleared, his supporters would do so by force. The speech came shortly before certain areas in north east Delhi was engulfed in sectarian violence which claimed more than 40 lives.
The video of the speech was later taken down by Facebook.
The WSJ article also added examples to show Das' personal bias towards Modi and the BJP, to draw a link between her political views and her actions as a high-level Facebook employee towards hate speech by Modi's party members. It stated that Das had previously written an article praising Modi, and was also found sharing a post that called Indian Muslims a "degenerate community".
On Sunday, Das filed an FIR with Delhi Police (Cyber Cell), alleging that she had received multiple threats, including death threats, on social media, following the WSJ article.
The WSJ article quickly triggered a major political storm in India, with several opposition leaders calling for investigations into BJP's link with Facebook.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi went as far as to allege that the BJP and Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) control Facebook and WhatsApp in India.
BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India.— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 16, 2020
They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate.
Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook. pic.twitter.com/Y29uCQjSRP
Ravi Shankar Prasad, the Union minister of Communications and Information Technology, responded by calling Gandhi a loser and instead pointed towards Congress' alleged involvement with former British political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica in the run up to the 2014 general elections.
Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS.— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) August 16, 2020
You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us? https://t.co/NloUF2WZVY
The government is yet to give an official statement regarding the details mentioned in the WSJ article, and its relation with Facebook.
Meanwhile, Shashi Tharoor also responded to Gandhi's tweet, stating that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, which he heads, would would take this matter up with Facebook.
Aam Aadmi Party legislator and Delhi's Peace and Harmony Committee head Raghav Chadha stated that concerned Facebook officials will be summoned by the committee to "discern if there is any role or complicity of Facebook Officials in Delhi Riots".
Delhi Legislative Assembly's Committee on Peace & Harmony has received complaints against officials of Facebook for their alleged deliberate & intentional inaction to contain hateful content in India with respect to scathing revelations made by a report in The Wall Street Journal pic.twitter.com/087DPhd6R2— Raghav Chadha (@raghav_chadha) August 17, 2020
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