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Citing business reasons, Facebook opposed action on BJP-linked hate posts: WSJ report

Facebook's top public policy executive in India “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.”

Written by Karishma Mehrotra | New Delhi | Updated: August 16, 2020 1:45:30 pm
BJP ad spending on Facebook, BJP Facebook, BJP FB investment, Facebook India BJP, Facebook hate speech case, Facebook Wall Street Journal, Facebook India BJP ModiFacebook is “committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity in the way we operate," said Neil Potts.

In what highlights the challenges of policing content by social media platforms, The Wall Street Journal has reported that citing business imperatives, Facebook’s top public policy executive in India “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.” Read in Malayalam

Facebook India’s Public Policy Director Ankhi Das told staff members that “punishing violations” by BJP politicians “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users,” WSJ reported.

Referring to hate-speech — calling for violence against minorities — allegedly by Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh, the report cited “current and former” Facebook employees as saying that Das’s intervention is part of a “broader pattern of favouritism” by the company towards the ruling party.

The WSJ report said that internal Facebook staff concluded that the MLA should be banned from the platform under a policy called “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”.

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Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said Das had “raised concerns about the political fallout” but said her opposition “wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Singh remain the platform.”

According to the report, Facebook deleted some of Singh’s posts after a query from WSJ, and said that he was no longer allowed to have an official account.

When contacted by The Indian Express, Singh claimed he did not personally post any of the content mentioned in the report and that his page was taken down.

“Facebook did not communicate with us when they took down our official page in 2018. Now, many different supporters across the country have been making pages in my name. We cannot stop anyone. We do not have control,” Singh said. There are at least eight pages and profiles in Singh’s name.

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The Indian Express sent a message to Das but she was unavailable for comment.

Asked about the WSJ report, a Facebook spokesperson told The Indian Express: “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”

India is Facebook’s largest user base at 346 million, according to Statista, but several key products, such as WhatsApp payments and Free Basics Internet, have been halted or stalled by regulatory decisions.

The policy referred to by some Facebook India employees to flag Singh’s alleged posts is the “Dangerous Individuals and Organisations” policy. Under this, content that praises or supports activity such as “organized hate”, “mass murder”, “hate crimes”, or “terrorist attacks” is banned.

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Incidentally, Facebook had labelled the communal riots in Northeast Delhi this February as a “hate crime” under this policy, sources told The Indian Express in the beginning of March. The process involved local flagging and a decision made with the global team, they said.

Other examples under this policy include the 2018 communal riots in Sri Lanka, and posts by US right-wing personalities such as Alex Jones and Milo Yiannapoulos.

In March last year, Facebook was summoned to the IT Parliamentary Standing Committee led by Anurag Thakur who had accused the platforms (primarily Twitter) of anti-conservative bias.

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