FIRs, counter-FIRs, threats - Just what’s happening in Facebook hate speech row?

Ever since the Wall Street Journal published a report recently that claimed that certain Facebook India executives overlooked hate speech by a BJP MLA and some other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups”, there have been heated exchanges between the ruling party and the opposition parties. The report claims that “some employees allege favoritism to ruling party”.

Quoting some ex and current employees of Facebook India, the WSJ report stated that this was done at the behest of Ankhi Das, Director - Public Policy, Facebook India, South and Central Asia, who, the report said, asked the staff to overlook it in the interest of Facebook’s business prospects in India.

Post the publication of this article by WSJ, media reports quoted a Facebook spokesperson as saying, “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.”

Ever since the report appeared on August 14, 2020, there has been a political furore across the country, with the BJP and Congress clashing over it and each accusing the other of manipulating and trying to control social media in the country.

Meanwhile, Ankhi Das has filed a complaint with the Cyber Cell of Delhi Police stating that she has received “violent threats” online. Now, in a twist, as per media reports, Awesh Tiwari, a TV journalist from Raipur, has lodged an FIR against Ankhi Das and two others under various sections of the IPC. Incidentally, Tiwari is one of the persons mentioned by Das in her complaint to Delhi Police. Tiwari also alleged that he was being threatened via messages and WhatApp calls.

Hitting out on social media, Congress’ Rahul Gandhi had tweeted, “BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook.”

Congress general secretary KC Venugopal wrote to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook, stating that the social media giant was interfering with India’s democratic system and also demanded an investigation into Facebook’s operations and its leadership in India.

Meanwhile, T Raja Singh, the BJP MLA from Telangana who has been named in the WSJ report as propagating hate speech against the Rohingya Muslims has refuted such allegations and has instead claimed that his Facebook account was hacked and blocked in 2018. He tweeted, “I have got to know many FB pages are using my name. Let me clarify I’m not having any official page, I’m not responsible for any of their post.”

Apart from the Congress, the CPI-M has also condemned the role of Facebook, especially in its India operations. In a statement issued, CPI-M alleged, “Facebook is not following its own laid down policy against communal hate content.”

With all political parties very active on social media, the issues brought up in the WSJ report are bound to have wider ramifications in the coming days. As far as Facebook is concerned, its next action is being keenly watched. Will business trump over ensuring fairness and accuracy? Time will tell.


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