Is Facebook favouring Modi’s BJP in India?

Is Facebook favouring Modi's BJP in India
Facebook is accused of favouring the ruling BJP in India. Source: AFP
5 Min Read

Daily US Times: A Wall Street Journal report revealed that Facebook goes easy on hate speech by an Indian lawmaker belonging to the governing BJP to protect the social media giant’s interests in its biggest market. The report was based on interviews with current and former Facebook and it prompted immediate calls for an investigation.

The Wall Stree Journal said in its report that Facebook deleted some hateful anti-Muslim posts by T Raja Singh, a lawmaker from India’s southern Telangana state only after paper asked about them.

The paper reported that Facebook employees had decided in March that Mr Singh’s post qualified as dangerous and violated the company’s hate-speech rules. But Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, opposed applying “hate speech rules to Mr Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in the violence”.

The paper said Ms Das told employees that “punishing violations by politicians from Mr Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.

The report has sparked calls by opposition lawmakers for investigations into Facebook’s conduct in India.

Rahul Gandhi, the leader of the main opposition Congress party, led the charge. Mr Gandhi alleged that the BJP, and its ideological fountainhead, RSS, were “controlling” Facebook in India.

Mr Singh says his Facebook page was ‘hacked into and deleted’ in 2018.

Ravi Shankar, India’s information technology minister, promptly responded and alluded to his previous remarks in 2018 about “numerous reports” of Congress involvement with Cambridge Analytica and asking Mr Gandhi to “explain” the company’s role in his social media outreach. (That year India had taken down the local website of Cambridge Analytica following allegations the company used personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential elections.)

India is Facebook’s biggest market with more than 340 million users. Facebook announced in April it was investing $5.7bn (£4.6bn) in cut-price Indian mobile internet company Reliance Jio, owned by the country’s richest and one of world’s top richest persons Mukesh Ambani. This would give the social media company a major foothold in India, where WhatsApp, Facebook-owned messaging app, has 400m users and is about to launch a payments service.

Prime Minister Modi and Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg in 2015. Source: AFP

BBC’s Soutik Biswas reached out to Facebook with a list of detailed questions. He asked why Facebook had not taken down Mr Singh’s posts earlier, how many pages had been taken down and accounts suspended in India for hate speech and what it did with the lawmaker’s account.

In an email response, a spokesperson of Facebook replied: “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.”

Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, separately acknowledged to the Wall Street Journal that Ankhi 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 on the platform”. Mr Stone said that he had nothing more to add.

T Raja Singh said his official page on Facebook with 300,000 followers was “hacked and deleted” in 2018. He said he had complained about it to the local cyber crime detectives. He said: “I don’t know whether it was misused.”

Facebook might have recently taken down pages floated by his followers and containing inflammatory content, he said, adding that his followers might have “uploaded hate speech” on these pages.

Mr Singh, the sole BJP legislator in the 119-member elected Telangana state assembly said: “Sometimes I go to public meetings and talk in style. My followers might have uploaded those videos”. Mr Stone told WSJ that Facebook is still considering whether it will ban the legislator.

Being asked him why he would post such incendiary content, Mr Singh replied: “There are a lot of anti-socials in my area. I counter them in their language, sometimes it is communal”. The BJP lawmaker said his Instagram account, which was still active, was not being operated by him.

You may read: Google says Australian law would put search at risk