Hate a political tool, now a state project: India 2023

There is a chance to make Meta Facebook accountable for its hate generating content on May 31, by voting YES for Proposal 7 titled “Assessing Allegations of Biased Operations in Meta's Largest Market” which is to be presented at Meta's AGM on May 31, 2023. It highlights allegations against Facebook for disseminating hate speech, its failure to address risks and political bias, voices concerns around inadequate content moderation and lack of transparency in platform practices. The writer calls on readers to participate in this campaign on social media to make our republic hate-free

UPDATE:  June 1, 2023

Unfortunately, the shareholders of Meta Platforms Inc. have voted against an inquiry into allegations of hate speech dissemination and concerns about content moderation in India at their annual general meeting on May 31. At the AGM meeting which was attended by Founder Mark Zuckerberg, senior executives and nine members of Meta’s board, among others, shareholders of the company voted against Proposal 7, which was titled , which was titled ‘Assessing Allegations of Biased Operations in Meta’s Largest Market’ as a voting matter. Details of the numbers for and against are not available yet.

The proposal was put forth by Eko, a non-profit advocacy that campaigns to hold corporations accountable on social issues. The details of the vote were tweeted by the Internet Freedom Foundation, which has been campaigning alongside Eko to raise awareness on Proposal 7 in India.

Internet Freedom Foundation, part of the campaign vowed to carry on the fight for accountability.


The Proposal also outlined how, content moderation in India is undercut by poor capacity of Meta’s “misinformation classifiers” (algorithms) and its human moderators to recognize many of India’s 22 officially recognized languages,” the proposal had said.

It is however noteworthy that the Meta’s board had already recommended shareholders to vote against the proposal, citing that the company already has been undertaking efforts to address these.

“The requested report is unnecessary and would not provide additional benefit to our shareholders,” it had said in a proxy statement prior to the AGM

In close to four decades as a journalist and civil rights activist working across India, I have witnessed my fair share of religious polarisation and attendant violence. In this period, I have covered the Bombay-Bhiwandi communal violence of 1984, seen and witnessed from afar the anti-Sikh pogrom in New Delhi in 1984, the Bombay Riots of 1993, in which over 900 people (mostly Muslims) were killed and the 2002 Gujrat Pogrom, in which over 2000 people (again, predominantly Muslims), the Muzaffarnagar violence 2013 communal flare-ups in Malegaon, Nasik, Dhule and Akola over the years, among others. The experience of on-ground coverage of communal violence has its lessons for the reporter that unfortunately escape today’s television studio based and social media driven journalism. The non–negotiables: visit the spot of the conflict, talk to all sides despite the mental and physical borders constructed by society and state, do not rely on police tweets, press releases and versions; watch out for the pre-violence outbreak rumour, hate mongering through speech and writing.

Who cast the first stone is a time-tested journalistic ethic developed by me through this hard experience, buffeted by the findings of three dozen or more judicial commission reports appointed to Inquire into bouts of Communal Violence since the 1960s, all overseen by sitting and retired senior judges that I have closely studied. The learning: hate speech plays a crucial role in escalating the conflict, provocative words and writing and through their systemic use and dissemination, stigmatization carefully nurses a social atmosphere conducive to the outbreak of targeted violence. The majority, made complicit by this hate-mongering stays silent, the police infected by this steady dose of prejudicial ideas, manipulated histories and verbally violent stigmatization, fails to act to protect lives, in a more acute stage of complicity even participates in the violence.

Yet nothing in my lived experience quite prepared me for the scale of hatred against Muslims (and Christians, even Dalits and Women) that has been unleashed after Narendra Modi, of the majoritarian Bharatiya Janata Party, was elected as Prime Minister in 2014, and especially since his re-election in 2019. Islamophobia, and other anti-minorities hate has not only become “the new normal” in the New India, we see empirical evidence of this everyday as our teams at Citizens for Justice and Peace monitor and document in a series of reports, as part of our campaign “Hate Hatao.” Hate generation through unchecked alogrithms on social media, especially Meta Facebook with 314 million users in India has made the amplification seriously threatening.

Hate is today a State Project in India where the political formation in power, its vigilante organisations & brown shirts are mentally and physically armed through hate propaganda to violently harm religious minorities, women, Dalits targets. Prejudiced Ideas, Acts of Prejudice, Discrimination, Violence – four stages prior to Genocide—have been breached.

Hateful rhetoric against Muslims most particularly –though the Christian minority, Dalits, Women and other Sexual minorities are far from immune–is broadcast through various channels: Whatsapp forwards, television shows, digital media, political rallies, even some newspaper articles authored by votaries of an altered nation state, proponents of a theocratic autocracy (Hindu Rashtra). A notable change in the editorial pages of print media is the column space given to these “ideologues”, space that affords them a legitimacy in the Indian media and public spectrum. Never mind that the articulation of such an altered state is also anti-Constitutional. By far the most significant outlet for hate speech is social media, in particular, are arguably Facebook and WhatsApp, both platforms that are owned by Meta Inc. Though Musk-owned Twitter and other newer versions are fast catching up!

The women and girls of India’s largest minority have been a debasing target –through 2021 and 2022–through twitter accounts, Github and Clubhouse platforms where the macabre and shameful phenomenon of their auctions has taken place. A Radio Silence from the political leadership in power in New Delhi through all of this clearly signifies consent. Hate Crimes therefore enjoy a high level of impunity. That Facebook can be a participant-platform for this escalation up the genocidal pyramid is both shocking & unacceptable.

Between 1983 when I first began as a reporter of conflict and now, the change is marked. Social media platforms and digital media is the new reality. Both reach a far wider audience that traditional media outlets like newspapers and television. Which is to also say that allow a far wider number of people to both access and—importantly—produce content than mainstream media. India today has over 314 million Facebook users, by far the largest of any country in the world, and over twice of the next largest, the United States, which has 175 million users. This makes social media platforms the ideal medium through which hate-mongering Hindu supremacist politicians and activists can gain a following. To create a political constituency for majoritarianism manipulate FB and create multipliers through content.

Many members of the BJP, its parent organisation, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, and dozens of the spawn outfits that are created with multiple identities (Sakal Hindu Samaj, Hindu Jan Jagruti Sena, Ram Sene are just a few) have spoken candidly about the importance of the use of social media to Hindutva organising and mobilisation.

Some quick examples: In October 2018 we complained to Ms. Ankhi Das, the Public Policy Director, India, South & Central Asia, Facebook about the vandalisation of a Church in Varanasi, St. Thomas Church in the prime minister’s parliamentary constituency, by extremists, some of whom had also previously posted –on Facebook –inflammatory content targeting the Christian community. We received no response.

In 2019, our HateWatch programme had analysed how one elected official of the influential ruling BJP party from a state in the south, Telangana amplified a rumour and added his own hate-filled speech on Facebook where he had half a million viewers. A year earlier, he had called for a vicious economic boycott of “terrorist Kashmiris” during the Amarnath Yatra on a video that has been viewed 3,00,000 times. Finally, he was the central figure flagged in the August 2020 WSJ Report on how the corporation ignored hate speech by BJP leaders in India to protect its business interests. Welcome to T Raja Singh.

By March 2021, when FB finally concluded that he, Raja Singh, had, in fact, violated its own Community standards (Objectionable Content) and Violence and Criminal Behaviour rules, he was finally removed from FB. His Fan Pages with 2,19,430 and another with 17,018 followers, however continue to operate and generate provocative content.

Today, Raja Singh, “suspended” MLA of the ruling BJP has re-emerged in a new on-ground avatar, as one of the latest poster boys of hate for the ruling regime, spreading his venom across the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka and Rajasthan. In Maharashtra where the regime faces a tough electoral contest next year (general elections May 2024, state assembly elections Aug-September 2024) he has addressed seven gatherings and has four FIRs against him, in Rajasthan he has one. For his vituperative election speech, CJP has filed a complaint with the state election commission that has been forwarded for further action. Another is Sudarshan News’s notorious Suresh Chavhanke.

Truly emboldened by an all round immunity that he, this “suspended” MLA enjoys, in May 2023, T. Raja Singh, who has in his earlier speeches called for violence against Muslims on multiple occasions, declared the following to an audience in Kota, Rajasthan:

“I want to tell Prime Minister Modi and other ministers that now, no one can stop us from establishing a Hindu nation. India will be an undivided Hindu nation. Through social media, we have to ensure that this message reaches PM Modi. We have to make sure this reaches those Ministers of India that are secular so that they know that secularism will not work in India it will not work in Rajasthan. Now, only the rule of Hindus and Hinduvta will be there.”

In other words, Singh was calling on his followers to take to social media and ask the prime minister to establish a Hindu ethnocracy in India. That an elected member of the legislature, who takes oath under the Constitution to abide by its republican and inclusive principles, is turning to social media to advance his agenda speaks volumes about the important role it plays in Hindutva mobilisation.

Similar stark examples around the Delhi 2020 violence in the capital, Delhi abound. Among these, the Ragini Towari (“kill or die” call), Kapil Mishra, Anjali Verma shrill use of social media, all show that it is the unchecked use of Facebook in non-English languages that is instrumental in the spill and spiral of targeted of violence on the streets. Facebook Inc has formally responded to two complaints sent by Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) against hate content made by Ragini Tiwari, stating that they are not in a position to take any action against Tiwari. Instead, Facebook suggested that CJP contact the party directly to get a resolution on the issue!  Then there is also a serial hate offender, Deepak Sharma who Facebook is extremely reluctant to disengage with: we developed a detailed profile of his activities and character through Facebook. We complained, brought it up in writing and at round-tables. With thousands of followers he still enjoys space on the platform. 

Four years before the genocidal call to kill Muslims was made by him in December 2021 which led to a spurt of outrage among some Indians and even some movement in the hate speech case in the Supreme Court, we had been steadily tracking, documenting, reporting and complaining about the man at the centre of the genocidal hate story, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, pointing out the eco-system of hate he has created. During this painstaking process, in November 2018, four years before the genocidal call to kill Muslims was made by him in December 2021, when a CJP member complained about his FB post where he said Hindus should be armed 24X7 to protect their religion and that Islam is cancer, we were told by FB India that this does not go against their community standards but if we have an issue we can either block YATI or unfollow his page. 

In short, we have tried to engage however and whenever given the chance, have had detailed correspondences, have offered more than a dozen and a half of minute case studies and many, more complaints that, have unfortunately resulted in unsatisfactory results. All this work has also been at a risk and cost as the government targeted us venomously.

Where lies the stumbling block?

Despite the FB mega corporation’s own set standards against public safety, hate speech, violence, discrimination, is that Facebook India fails to take cognisance of the local context of supremacist and communally charged politics. Comprehending the difference between hate speech and free speech requires a candid engagement with an understanding of India’s diversity and India’s track record of vicious, targeted communal violence. Allowing such hate content on Facebook also legitimises such content that, even courts have –albeit slowly –recognised.

Facebook’s automated filters which are supposed to filter hate speeches too, falter in India in the non-English languages: Any user can today search for hate content through a handful of ‘key words’, which Facebook does not filter out. (words or terms like “Kattar Hindu” (rigid or fanatical Hindu) पंचर पुत्र पंचर छापमुल्लेमुल्लाकटुआहलालाहलाला की औलादबाबर की औलाद which are particular derogatory/slang terms devised simply escape all filters. (“Panchar”(slang/derogatory term for Muslims who work in automobile garages). In fact there are individuals, groups and pages with the ID Kattar Hindu, they have hundreds of thousands of followers. These. can be found on FB, WhatsApp, Twitter. By the way, all such usage is also violative of Indian Law and Jurisprudence, international law and conventions including the UN’s 2019 Call against Xenophobia and Hate Speech and the 2011 UN Guiding Principle on Business & Human Rights

This then is the other major reason that social media is central to the spread of Islamophobic hate speech is that companies like Meta have been egregiously lax in moderating content on their platforms. At CJP, we      have documented [1] numerous instances of “viral” Islamophobic content on Facebook and WhatsApp that was not taken down, despite violating Meta’s own content moderation regulations, which explicitly debar any speech that vilifies a particular community.

Why is it that Meta tolerates hate speech on its platform? Partly, this is because the company has not invested in content moderation for its India operations, which means that much of the posts published in the country are not properly vetted, especially those in regional languages. At the same time, Meta has faced repeated allegations that its Indian staffers are sympathetic towards the BJP and its agenda and are thus turning a blind eye towards Islamophobic content. This came to the fore during the 2020 Delhi riots, when a video of a Hindu religious leader openly calling for “ethnic cleansing” of Muslims was shared widely on various Meta platforms, and was not taken down, despite numerous reports[2] .

I have mentioned just a few examples. Every day that Hindutva supremacists take to Facebook and WhatsApp to post inflammatory and violent posts targeting Muslims. They do this because they are confident that Meta will not hold them accountable. In effect, then, Meta has created a public space where Islamophobia can flourish with impunity. Indian civil society groups like CJP, Alt News, Hate Speech Beda (based in Karnataka), and others have dedicated significant resources to flagging and reporting hate speech on Meta’s platforms. But these actions can only go so far—indeed, our actions will always be inadequate—until Meta itself takes responsibility for its India platforms. At the end of the day, the company has far greater power than any groups or individuals.

For all these reasons, it is a very significant marker that tomorrow, May 31, hate speech on Meta’s India platforms will be on the agenda at the company’s annual general board meeting. “Proposal 7”—one of thirteen proposals that will be discussed at the meeting—presents the evidence against Meta for spreading Islamophobic hate speech, its inadequate content moderation, and the general lack of transparency around the company’s practices. The shareholders who are attending the meeting have a great opportunity to pressure to act to uphold the rights of Indian Muslims and hold Hindu hate speech mongers to account. . Notably, out of the 13 proposals being put to vote, this is the only one that relates to India, and to the inbuilt bias in AI.  Proposal 7 titled “Assessing Allegations of Biased Operations in Meta’s Largest Market” is to be presented at Meta’s AGM on May 31, 2023. It highlights allegations against Facebook for disseminating hate speech, its failure to address risks and political bias, voices concerns around inadequate content moderation and lack of transparency in platform practices.

This campaign, jointly launched by Ekō, India Civil Watch International (ICWI), and Internet Freedom Foundation (IFF), aims to raise awareness about Proposal 7 among users of Meta platforms, the relevant concerns highlighted in the proposal, and urge the shareholders to vote in favour of Proposal 7 by May 31. As part of the campaign, IFF will post everyday, from May 26 till May 31, highlighting instances where Meta has failed to address critical issues effectively. 

The Meta leadership might not care what Indian civil society groups think, but it certainly cares about the opinion of its shareholders.

This piece then ends with an unorthodox appeal from a senior journalist: We call on them to vote YES on Prop 7.

This article first appeared in the print and online The Telegraph edition on May 31, 2023



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