With great power comes great responsibility, and social networking giant Facebook will need shoulders broad enough to bear the burden. A week ago, after US intelligence agencies warned of foreign interference in the impending polls and President Donald Trump grumbled about rigged postal ballots, Facebook joined Alphabet and Twitter in discussions with federal officials about cleansing platforms of misinformation which could influence the popular will. But in India, the Wall Street Journal reported, action against hate speech by at least four individuals or groups linked to the BJP was opposed on the plea that it would harm Facebook’s business prospects. India is the platform’s biggest market. Since it cannot operate in China, India is crucial for its future prospects.
Apart from Anantkumar Hegde and Kapil Mishra, Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh was reported internally for crossing the line and his posts were flagged as “promoting or participating in violence.” Apparently, employees policing the network suggested that action should be taken against Singh under the company’s Dangerous Individuals and Organisations policy, under which content can be banned, but Facebook declined to invoke hate speech rules against these individuals and groups, the WSJ reported. In the communal violence in Delhi in February, it has been alleged that a video of Kapil Mishra of the BJP played a role, which Facebook took down after it went viral, but which continued to spread nevertheless on WhatsApp, also a Facebook property.
Mark Zuckerberg has argued that politicians need to be heard, but he has also said that Facebook must draw a line on hate speech. It must do so even-handedly, and irrespective of geography and business interests. Last year, just before elections, when it cracked down on fake accounts, it took down over 700 pages that were found linked to both the Congress and the BJP. As the digital technology hailed for giving voice to all turns into an echo-chamber in which dangerous voices, amplified by the power they wield, carry further than others, platforms cannot be seen to be playing favourites, anywhere. Facebook must be seen to be agnostic to ideology, and not succumb to the urge to reduce business risk in certain locations by shifting the goalpost or lowering the bar. If it acts against white supremacists and militant black organisations in Trump’s America, it must do so with the equivalent of such groups in India, too. One of the problems seems to be that the people responsible for platform integrity also interface with governments and have to nurture relationships with the establishment. Stung by poll-related scandals in the US and UK, and by a recent advertisers’ boycott, Facebook should resolve this obvious conflict of interest, or risk losing brand value globally.