Blaming algorithms is denial of corporate responsibility: Former civil servants to Facebook

Open letter to Mark Zuckerberg demands a look into the working of Facebook’s hate-speech policy in India


As many as 54 former Indian civil servants from the Constitutional Conduct Group asked Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, in an open letter on August 24, to audit the implementation of the company’s hate speech policy in India. 

“We are writing to you now… because certain actions (or the absence of certain actions) by Facebook in their operations in India have thrown into danger some of the fundamental rights of the people of India,” said the letter. 

The group referred to the findings of a recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) article that talked about the influence of Indian political parties in censoring hate speech on the social media platform for the company’s commercial interest. The letter strongly condemned Facebook’s treatment of its hate-speech policy; a topic that has been debated in other countries as well. 

“Commercial interests at the cost of human lives? If these are the crass calculations Facebook indulges in, it is no surprise that the calculus of hate is spreading like a virus in many parts of the world. To blame the algorithms of artificial intelligence is both to evade corporate responsibility and to deny the human agency involved in the framing of those very algorithms,” letter said. 

The former public servants also expressed surprise that the company had failed to take action against some blatant hate-speech offenders such as T. Raja Singh for posting derogatory comments against people of other religions, accusing Muslims of spreading Covid-19 encouraging allegations of ‘love jihad’ and various other misdemeanours. They reminded Zuckerberg that democratic rights can be adversely affected by hate speech which is why Facebook has its own policy not to allow hate speech.

“This is a sure way of demonising minorities and inflicting violence upon them while undermining the democratic and secular basis of the Indian Constitution,” they said. 

The company even deleted the posts on August 17, indicating that Facebook did consider them to be offensive. Yet it has shown leniency towards these persons who also happen to be members of the ruling political party. 

“We are dismayed to learn, again from the WSJ article, that the Public Policy Head of Facebook India consciously opposed applying Facebook’s hate speech rules to members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because doing so would adversely affect the company’s business prospects in India,” the group said in the letter. 

The letter cited recent incidents such as the Delhi riots in February, the violence during anti-Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests, the many cases of cow vigilantism, and said that many of these crimes were instigated through hate speech via communication channels, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Yet in all these instances Facebook has either failed to implement its hate-speech policy or has implemented it in a clearly partisan manner. 

The letter thus asked Zuckerberg to check the company’s implementation of the hate speech policy and to ensure that the present Public Policy Head of Facebook in India is not in a position to influence the investigations. It also asked the CEO not to let business prospects stand in the way of implementing the company’s hate-speech policy.



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