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Facebook Employees Take on Bosses on Hate Speech Tolerance in India

This follows WSJ’s expose of how the social media behemoth has not been taking action against several BJP leaders’ hate content.
Facebook Employees Take on Bosses on Hate Speech Tolerance in India

Representational image. | Image Courtesy: Telegraph India

New Delhi: Employees of Facebook have taken up the explosive issue of the company’s top executives in India allowing toxic content by BJP leaders to go unchecked despite a clear policy of removing such content and banning perpetrators, the Wall Street Journal reported today. A group of employees from India and other countries has written a letter quoted by the Journal as saying that Facebook needed to make its policy-enforcement process for high-profile users more transparent and less susceptible to political influence.

Last week in the leading US-based financial newspaper had reported that Facebook’s India arm was displaying a “pattern of favoritism in India toward the country’s ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners”. After talking to several staffers, the paper had said that Facebook’s public-policy head in India, Ankhi Das, had obstructed the application of hate-speech rules to “a BJP politician and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups”, the Journal reported.

Following this, there has been a worldwide uproar and many have protested at this pandering to BJP, which has been ruling India since 2014.

The protest letter by employees addressed to “FB Leadership” reportedly said: “Many of us also believe our organizational structure combining content policy and government affairs under the same umbrella is fundamentally flawed.” This was a reference to the suspicion that Facebook management was deliberately softening its own rules against hate content in order to remain in the good books of the Narendra Modi government. India is the company’s biggest market by users. The employees asked for a review of why, although some material from the politician had been removed, he remains on the platform, the paper said.

“There was also no acknowledgment that we might have made mistakes in allowing such content to remain on the platform,” the letter said, as quoted by the paper. “This is deeply saddening and can be viewed as indicating a lack of empathy for the Muslim experience at best and a tacit condoning of this behavior at worst.”

In a scathing post quoted by the paper, one employee has written “People’s lives are at risk in India and we are acting like the public comments from our leadership were harmless.”

In the letter quoted by the paper, employees reportedly alleged that “despite India’s history of communal violence, the company has never banned an extremist Hindu organization for inciting hatred in the country.”

“To our knowledge, not a single non-Muslim group has been designated as a dangerous organization in India, despite several examples of organized violence carried out by these groups,” the letter says. The letter also asserted that Facebook’s India public-policy team has no Muslim staff.

According to the paper, Facebook last week acknowledged that Das raised concerns about political fallout from banning Hindu nationalist figures over hate speech and incitements to violence against Muslims, but said its decisions didn’t depend solely on her and that her team made valuable contributions to the process.

In an attempt to control the damage to its reputation caused by the WSJ revelations, a company spokesperson said on August 20, “This letter is a prime example of the type of open culture we value at Facebook.” “Leaders at Facebook appreciate the honest, candid feedback they receive. We stand against anti-Muslim hate and bigotry and welcome the opportunity to continue the conversation on these issues.”

The company’s top India executive, Ajit Mohan, has “internally defended Ms. Das following the Journal’s reporting”, the paper said.

The paper had clearly reported that employees had told its reporters that Facebook staff responsible for identifying hate content had concluded that BJP leader T Raja Singh had violated the company’s hate-speech rules and should be permanently banned from its platforms globally, but “Ms. Das opposed the move”. T Raja Singh, BJP’s Telangana MLA had in a post said Muslims should be shot, they eat cows.

The paper has reported that employees have protested against Mohan on the company’s internal message-board. “Some questioned the length of the review process for Mr. Singh, who they alleged has continued to post hate speech to the platform. Others took issue with Ms. Das’s personal behavior, noting that she had shared posts with negative appraisals of India’s Muslim community on her personal Facebook page” the paper reported.

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