Facebook has told the Congress that its decisions on enforcement of its policies on hate speech and dangerous organisations and individuals are not made “unilaterally by any one person” and that its public policy is driven by a “diverse team” representing a “varied political spectrum” who have either served in many administrations or have “political experience”.
Facebook’s response came after Congress general secretary K C Venugopal wrote two letters to its CEO Mark Zuckerberg last month referring to The Wall Street Journal report which said that 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”.
The reply by Neil Potts, Facebook’s Director of Public Policy who oversees the Trust and Safety Policy Team, to Venugopal’s August 18 letter did not say anything about the Congress’s demand for a “high-level inquiry” into Facebook’s leadership team in India. Neither was there any direct mention of the charges levelled by the Congress against the public policy executive in India.
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Potts said Facebook takes “seriously the concerns and recommendations” raised by the Congress and pointed out that the company is “non-partisan” and strives to ensure that its platforms remain a space where people can express themselves freely. “We take allegations of bias seriously and want to make clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in all forms. In the last interaction with you and other esteemed members of your party, we described our Community Standards — our policies on what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook—and shared the steps we have taken on our platforms in the wake of COVID-19,” Potts said.
“On the question of hateful contents by public figures, we want to assure you that our Community Standards prohibit attacks against people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, caste, ethnicity, and national origin. In line with our hate speech policy, we have removed and will continue to remove hateful content by public figures in India on our platforms.”
He said that as part of Facebook’s policy development process, it consults a community of external voices, including civil society organisations, academics and subject experts.
Venugopal in his letter had also quoted another news report which, he said, had in 2018 suggested that several individuals in Facebook’s India leadership team had close proximity to the ruling establishment. Potts wrote, “Public Policy is a diverse team representing a varied political spectrum, who have either served in many administrations or have political experience and take immense pride in being active contributors to public service—this is the case not only in India but also globally. Together, we have a non-partisan approach in dealing with content and have designed systems to ensure we are enforcing policies globally without regard for anyone’s past political positions, party affiliation, or beliefs.”
Responding to the reply, Praveen Chakravarty, who heads the data analytics department of the Congress, said the party’s concerns about a foreign company’s “interference in India’s internal affairs” is not a political issue. “This is about India’s democracy and use of digital weapons to disrupt India’s social order by a foreign company, at the behest of certain individuals in their leadership team,” he said.