The principal opposition party in the Indian Parliament, the Indian National Congress (INC), on Tuesday, wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg demanding a high-level inquiry into the recent allegations on the platform wilfully neglecting incidents of hate speech from politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
In a story published on August 14 by the US-based publication The Wall Street Journal, titled ‘Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics’, it was alleged that Facebook’s public policy executive Ankhi Das opposed the application of the platform’s hate speech rules on an Indian politician from the ruling party, despite the politician’s posts being found to be incendiary.
In a letter to Zuckerberg, subsequently posted on the Congress’ official Twitter handle, the party’s general secretary KC Venugopal wrote, “This is a damning and serious allegation of Facebook India’s interference in India’s electoral democracy. Further, the article quotes a Facebook Inc spokesperson Mr Andy Stone acknowledging the implicit biases of Facebook India’s leadership. It also points out that Facebook India deleted the hate speech posts, after investigative inquiries by the Wall Street Journal, which if true, is a clear admission of guilt.”
In its demands stated in the letter, Congress has asked for a high-level inquiry by Facebook headquarters into its India leadership team and their operations. The party further asked Facebook to submit a report “to the board of Facebook Inc within a reasonable period of time such as one/two months. The report should also be made public.”
Congress also asked Facebook to publish all instances of hate speech since 2014 (the year BJP came into power) that were allowed on the platform, adding that while the internal investigation is underway, the company should consider delegating its India operations to a new team to ensure that the investigation’s findings are not influenced.
Facebook’s Patchy Record In Countering Hate Speech In India
Earlier today (August 19), it was reported that the peace and harmony committee of the Delhi legislative assembly had summoned Facebook India’s public policy executive, Ankhi Das, over posts and contents that fuelled discontent among citizens during the major riots in Delhi in late February.
The committee will discuss if Facebook officials played any role in the orchestration of the Delhi riots, which happened in February this year. Raghav Chadha, the committee’s chairman, said in a tweet thread that it had received several complaints against the officials of Facebook for, “their alleged deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content in India with respect to scathing revelations made by a report in The Wall Street Journal.”
Meanwhile, the parliamentary standing committee on information technology has decided to look into the allegations that Facebook does not take any action against the hateful comments posted by legislators of the ruling party, to seek favours from the Indian government. The committee is led by Thiruvananthapuram Member of Parliament and member of Congress, Shashi Tharoor.
Notably, this is not the first time that Facebook has been accused of promoting hate speech in India. Last year, a report by non-profit rights group Avaaz suggested that Facebook was letting many incidents scot-free, even as the company claimed to have taken action against 65% of the hate speech on its platform before anyone reported it.