Facebook’s questionable position on anti-minority activity in India has come under the scanner of The Wall Street Journal again, with the newspaper reporting that the social media giant did not act against the Bajrang Dal in India over fears of a reprisal.
According to the report, Facebook’s internal security team had said that if the organisation classified the Bajrang Dal – the youth wing of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and a Sangh Parivar affiliate – as a “dangerous organisation”, there may be “physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities.”
Earlier this year, Facebook’s safety team had said that the Bajrang Dal “supported violence against minorities in India” and “likely qualified as a ‘dangerous organisation”.
However, this was not acted upon by the social media platform as it not only feared physical retaliation, but that the move could “endanger” their business prospects in India.
In a comment to the WSJ, a Facebook spokesperson said: “We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation.”
The report says however that the organisation’s employees, in an internal letter, had said that the “presence of Bajrang Dal on its platform, among other organisations, casts doubt on the company's commitment to tackle hate speech in India.”
The social media company’s internal security team also reportedly warned against banning “two other right-wing Hindu nationalist groups active on the platform: Sanatan Sanstha and Sri Ram Sena.”
Internally, Facebook’s human rights staffers have classified India as a country which has the “highest risk of societal violence,” alongside the likes of Pakistan and Myanmar.
The newspaper’s revelations come after the Journal had earlier reported that Ankhi Das, who heads public policy for Facebook in India, did not hesitate to show her backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having earlier worked for the campaign to elect him Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2012.
In August this year, the US newspaper had also reported how Facebook had not removed hateful posts made by a Bharatiya Janata Party leader against the Muslim community,
Posts from Das, made on an internal company group, had been outed. “We lit a fire to his (Modi) social media campaign and the rest is of course history (sic),” Das reportedly wrote on the group a day prior to when results for the Lok Sabha Elections in 2014 were announced.
In a series of articles published in the run-up to the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, NewsClick had reported on Facebook’s ties with India’s electoral democracy, and how it had lobbied its way into a position of power.
The first article was about the complicity of Facebook and WhatsApp in spreading disinformation and hate speech, leading to incidents of mob lynching in different parts of the country. It also elaborated on how the reach of media outlets critical of the establishment, was limited. The second piece showed how Facebook came to be in the position it was in, with help from friends and supporters of PM Modi.
The third report mentioned how key individuals with BJP links helped propagate the party’s right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda on social media. The fourth looked at the Congress’ relations with Facebook and an allegation of possible conflict of interest pertaining to a senior employee of Facebook in India (Ankhi Das). The fifth and final article laid bare the crisis confronting one of the world’s biggest internet conglomerates set up just over a decade ago. A detailed list of 64 pointed questions to Facebook had elicited a predictable and fuzzy response.