Facebook Under Scrutiny After Report on India Hate Speech Posts
(Bloomberg) -- Facebook Inc. is facing a backlash in India after being accused of going soft on the alleged hate speech of a lawmaker belonging to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party to protect its business interests in its biggest market by users.
Now, a committee of lawmakers that scrutinizes issues relating to the technology industry wants to question Facebook, Shashi Tharoor, a lawmaker from the opposition Congress party who heads the committee, said in an email to Bloomberg News.
“The subject is serious because of Facebook’s extensive reach in India and the potential for hate speech to incite violence and other unlawful behavior,” Tharoor said. He would seek “explanations from Facebook.”
A controversy broke out over the weekend following a Wall Street Journal report that Facebook deleted anti-Muslim posts by BJP lawmaker Raja Singh and three other Hindu nationalists only after being questioned by the paper. Current and former Facebook employees told the paper that Facebook’s head of public policy Ankhi Das opposed the deletion of the posts despite being flagged internally as breaching standards.
Das, an influential executive at Facebook India, was cited by the paper as telling employees that acting against a colleague of Prime Minister Narendra Modi could hurt the company’s business prospects.
Following the weekend’s events, Das filed a police complaint on Monday saying she was facing threats, abuse and bullying on social media following the WSJ report, according to news website NDTV. She did not respond to an email seeking comment.
The WSJ report set off a furor in India with Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi saying in a tweet that the BJP and its right wing affiliate Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh were “controlling” Facebook and its messaging platform, WhatsApp, in India. The country’s Information Technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad counter-accused the Congress Party of being caught red handed in an alliance with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to “weaponize data.”
The Menlo Park, California-based technology behemoth denied any favoritism to political parties. “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,” a Facebook spokeswoman said in an emailed statement. “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.”
Facebook has over 300 million users in India, while WhatsApp is the leader in messaging with over 400 million users. In April this year, Facebook invested $5.7 billion to buy a 9.9% stake in Jio Platforms, the telecom and internet unit of energy-to-retail conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani. Facebook’s Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg called the investment an “important moment” for the company.
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