A major controversy involving Facebook and alleged hate speech by leaders of India’s ruling party is unfolding. The social media giant is facing flaks from different quarters for allegedly turning a blind eye to the issue in order to “expand their business in India”.
As per the reports by an international media organisation, the same Facebook that used BJP leader Kapil Mishra’s hate speech on Delhi riot as an example a few months ago to outline its policy regarding dealing with such issue has ignored objectionable content from leaders and workers of the ruling party. In this article, we shall try to understand the entire controversy and all factors associated with it.
Here’s the Facebook-BJP hate speech controversy explained in 7 points
1. How did the controversy begin?
International media house The Wall Street Journal in its recent report claimed that Facebook India has turned a blind eye to the hate speech by a BJP leader and three other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” to protect the social media giant’s business in India, one of its biggest markets. The report quoted many former and current Facebook workers as saying that the accounts of those individuals flagged for “promoting or participating in violence”, were spared a ban at the intervention of Facebook India’s public policy executive chief Ankhi Das. Reports claim that the particular BJP leader cited in the WSJ report is Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh.
2. What are the Facebook authorities saying in defense?
According to the WSJ report, Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone “acknowledged that Ms Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Mr. Singh a dangerous individual, but said her opposition wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Mr. Singh remain on the platform”. “The spokesman said Facebook is still considering whether a ban is warranted,” the report added, quoting Facebook as saying that Singh “is no longer permitted to have an official, verified account, designated with a blue check mark badge.
Also, in the email response to ThePrint, Facebook said it acts against hate speech but admitted that more should be done in this regard. “While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”
a Facebook spokesperson told The Indian Express: “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”
4. The backdrop of the controversy
The WSJ report that triggered the controversy comes at a time when the social media giant is deepening pressure to crack down on hate speech which leads to violence. The biggest examples of this are the recent communal clashes in Delhi and Bengaluru. According to The WSJ report, some of Singh’s controversial posts were removed by Facebook after its reporters raised queries about them. Similar charges were made about posts made by two other BJP leaders — Kapil Mishra and MP Anantkumar Hegde.
A hate speech in February by Mishra — threatening vigilante action against anti-Citizenship Amendment Act agitators in Delhi, hours before the Capital’s northeast zone erupted in riots — was cited by Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg as an example of hate speech. As Zuckerberg sought to dissipate his workers’ concerns about Facebook’s alleged inaction on hate speech, Zuckerberg said they had removed a video of the speech that Mishra uploaded. However, the social media platform is allegedly going soft on those accused of spreading hate.
4. Is Facebook trying to save its India business?
Facebook has nearly 300 million users in India, while chat platform WhatsApp has400 million subscribers. According to a report, Facebook is also awaiting the Centre’s nod “to tap India’s burgeoning digital payments market, and looking to establish a wider presence as part of its $5.7 billion partnership with Reliance Jio”. Das “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to Singh and “at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” flagged by Facebook workers for promoting violence.
— sunetra choudhury (@sunetrac) August 16, 2020
“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, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users, the current and former employees said,” the WSJ report added. Facebook’s allegedly going slow or soft on this issue and this has raised the question whether the social media giant is just eyeing to save its business and thus maintain a good rapport with the Centre by not taking action against its leaders.
5. What is the Opposition saying?
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi in a report said the “BJP and RSS control Facebook and WhatsApp in India”. “BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook (sic),” Gandhi tweeted. Quite obviously, the Opposition is not letting this opportunity to attack the Centre go.
भाजपा-RSS भारत में फेसबुक और व्हाट्सएप का नियंत्रण करती हैं।
इस माध्यम से ये झूठी खबरें व नफ़रत फैलाकर वोटरों को फुसलाते हैं।
आख़िरकार, अमेरिकी मीडिया ने फेसबुक का सच सामने लाया है। pic.twitter.com/PAT6zRamEb
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 16, 2020
Senior Congress leader and MP Shashi Tharoor also said: “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology would certainly wish to hear from @Facebook about these reports & what they propose to do about hate-speech in India.” Another Congress leader, Manish Tewari, demanded a parliamentary probe into the matter in India as well as in the US.
6. Facebook India policy head says she’s getting death threats
Meanwhile, Facebook India policy head Ankhi Das has submitted a written complaint to the Delhi Police Cyber Cell. She alleged that a number of people have been issuing “violent threats against my life and body through online posting/publishing of content”. An FIR is yet to be registered, said a report. A senior Delhi Police officer said, “The complaint has been received and the matter is under inquiry.”
7. Parliamentary standing panel to ask Facebook about its ‘inaction’ over hate speech issue
India’s Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology will look into the WSJ report.
Our Parliamentary committee will, in the normal course, consider testimony under the topic “Safeguarding citizens’ rights & prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms”. The subject is squarely within the IT Cmt’s mandate& @Facebook has been summoned in the past. https://t.co/saoK8B7VCN
— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) August 16, 2020
“I will certainly look into the issue and the committee will seek the views of Facebook,” committee chairman Shashi Tharoor has told The Indian Express. The Express report said that the committee Secretariat will write to Facebook and seek its explanation about the alleged inaction.
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