By Nasreen Jehan
New Delhi: India Civil Watch (ICW) has raised serious questions about the conduct of Social Media Platform Facebook, claiming Facebook is being used against Muslims and minorities as well as against those who question the policies of the Modi government and BJP.
India Civil Watch (ICW) which is an umbrella of several organisations and Human Rights activists has moved to US Congress House Judiciary Committee against Facebook through an open petition stating that Facebook, has not only been turning a blind eye to hate speech and fake news rather appears to be deliberately conniving with hatemongers in one of the world’s most volatile environments.
ICW which according to its Objectives is committed to upholding democratic rights in India in its petition says that in India, Facebook has hired people who promote hate themselves, and who deliberately undercut their company’s own much-touted content rules.
The Petition says that:
India has recently seen the rise to power of an openly majoritarian and authoritarian party, the BJP, as well as a tidal wave of hate speech that has led to lynchings, massacres and pogroms. The most recent example occurred in the national capital Delhi, where 53 people, the majority of them Muslims, paid with their lives as police watched. Not one but two Indian states feature on Genocide Watch’s list of alerts and have been described as “just one stage” short of genocide. Meanwhile, hatemongers in general and BJP leaders, in particular, have had free rein to spread lies, bigotry and calls for violence on Facebook.
On August 14th, a day before India’s independence day, the Wall Street Journal exposed why. It confirmed what many Indian journalists, opposition leaders and dissenters had long argued – Facebook India has been deliberately playing along with hate in India. Not only that. It turns out Facebook’s own head of public policy for South Asia, Ankhi Das, herself posted content referring to Indian Muslims as a “degenerate” community, saying it ‘speaks to me.’ She opposed action against BJP leaders who have, among other things, called for Rohingyas to be shot and peaceful protesters to be massacred since it would lead to “political fallout.” In a follow-up report, the Wall Street Journal also exposed how Ankhi Das had, in internal posts, openly expressed support for the BJP and disparaged other political parties. Meanwhile, senior Indian journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Cyril Singh published a book in 2019, Real Face, in which they outlined how Facebook’s own global officials were “unhappy and uneasy” about the “close proximity” of Shivnath Thukral, another senior Facebook official, “to the Narendra Modi government.” Time Magazine has also carried a report that notes how independent bodies seeking to counter hate speech had raised questions over Thukral’s role. Also in 2019, three out of seven of Facebook’s official ‘fact-checkers’ in India were found to have themselves spread misinformation. That hardly seems accidental.
In the past, Mark Zuckerberg has claimed Facebook’s actions are some kind of defence of freedom of speech. That argument is problematic in itself. But here we’re talking about Facebook itself consciously supporting hatred.
The waves of violence in India have had terrible consequences both in that country and in the entire region. The large Indian diaspora in the United States has also found itself torn apart by these political developments. In this globally connected world we don’t think it is in the interests of either the United States or India for an American company to be complicit in this, whatever it may feel its commercial interests are. Those most directly affected by
Facebook’s actions cannot hold the company to account – but you can. Hence we request that you:
- – Call upon Facebook to explain its conduct in India with reference to the Wall Street Journal report, and to make public records of all internal discussions involving hate speech in India, and in particular relating to action against those in power
- – Direct Facebook to institute an audit of its compliance with its own hate speech rules in South Asia, with a particular focus on India, and commit to completing the audit and implementing its recommendations within four months. This has been demanded by groups in both India and the United States. This audit should be under the aegis of a genuinely neutral organisation rather than a paid for private consultant, ideally either the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights or the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression (given that the UN now has an agenda on addressing hate speech).
- – Call upon Facebook to remove any management personnel who have openly expressed hateful views or propagated hate speech.
- – Call upon Facebook to ensure its fact-checkers are genuine and neutral.
- – As Indian groups have demanded, ask Facebook to put its money where its mouth is and institute a reparations fund to pay compensation and support to all victims of violence wherever audits reveal that Facebook failed to enforce its guidelines.