Ankhi Das (second from right) with Narendra Modi when Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg (left) called on the prime minister in all saffron, in July 2014.
This is not the first time that Facebook has been exposed for its links with the Modi govt. At election time, a cosying up had been reported. Now, a Wall Sreet Journal report states that a top Facebook official in India was opposed to applying the social media platform’s hate speech rules to at least one Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician and other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups.
The August 14 WSJ report headlined “How Facebook’s Hate Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics” puts a name and a face—Ankhi Das, its chief lobbyist in Delhi, who works under the title of public-policy director–to some of the rumours, whispers and sharp practices surrounding Facebook’s India operations.
The revelations, coming 115 days after Facebook invested $5.7 billion (approximately Rs 43,000 crore) in Mukesh Ambani‘s Jio Platforms, shines a light on how business houses and tech majors from Nariman Point to Menlo Park are heavily invested in India’s current politics that exploits social and communal faultlines.
What FB was turning a blind eye to was content posted by these individuals or groups had been “flagged internally for promoting violence”.
The Wall Street Journal report says that Ankhi Das, who is Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, opposed applying hate speech rules to the BJP’s T. Raja Singh out of fear of ruining the company’s relationship with the ruling party.
Singh is the saffron party’s lone MLA in the Telangana assembly and is notorious for making communally provocative statements.
“Ms. Das, whose job also includes lobbying India’s government on Facebook’s behalf, told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country…,” the report said, quoting unnamed current and former company officials.
“The current and former Facebook employees said Ms. Das’s intervention on behalf of Mr. Singh is part of a broader pattern of favoritism by Facebook toward Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners,” it added.
Not sole factor, says Facebook spokesperson
A company spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal that while Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Singh a “dangerous individual”, her opposition was not the sole factor that determined whether the BJP politician should remain on the platform.
The spokesperson added that Facebook is still considering whether it will ban Singh.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Das’s team also took “no action” after BJP politicians posted content accusing Muslims of intentionally spreading the coronavirus, plotting against the nation and making a noise about “love jihad” – the term the Sangh parivar uses to describe a mythical conspiracy by Muslims men seeking to seduce and marry Hindu women in order to convert them to Islam.
In addition to this, unnamed former employees quoted by the US newspaper claim that Das had also provided the BJP with “favourable treatment on election-related issues”. “In April of last year, days before voting began in India’s general election, Facebook announced it had taken down inauthentic pages tied to Pakistan’s military and the Congress party, the BJP’s main rival party. But it didn’t disclose it also removed pages with false news tied to the BJP, because Ms. Das intervened,” the report said, quoting unnamed former Facebook employees.
According to the media report, several posts by Singh and BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde, which were filled with anti-Muslim rhetoric, were not deleted by Facebook until it was brought to their attention by Wall Street Journal reporters.
“Facebook deleted some of Mr. Singh’s postings after the Journal asked about them. It said Mr. Singh no longer is permitted to have an official, verified account, designated with a blue check mark badge,” the report notes.
“While Twitter has suspended Mr. Hegde’s account as a result of such [anti-Muslim] posts, prompting him to call for an investigation of the company, Facebook took no action until the Journal sought comment from the company about his “Corona Jihad” posts. Facebook removed some of them on Thursday. Mr. Hegde didn’t respond to a request for comment.”
Facebook being manipulated by Modi and BJP to influence election outcome?