Facebook ignored its hate speech policy and allowed anti-Muslim posts on its platform to avoid ruining the social media company’s relationship with Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), Wall Street Journal has reported.
The WSJ report published on Friday said a top Facebook executive in India refused to apply the company’s hate speech rules to (BJP) politicians and other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups”.
The report cited anonymous insiders in the company claim that Facebook’s senior India policy executive Ankhi Das stopped a ban by the internal content review processes against BJP’s Telengana MLA T Raja Singh who targeted the Muslim community with his communally charged comments.
“The company’s top public-policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to [T Raja] Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence,” it said, according to current and former Facebook employees.
Singh, the BJP’s only legislator in the southern state of Telangana, is known for his anti-Muslim rhetoric. The WSJ said the right-wing politician had demanded mainly-Muslim Rohingya refugees be shot, called India’s Muslims traitors and threatened to demolish mosques in his Facebook posts and public speeches.
In March this year, the report said, Facebook employees responsible for policing the platform found Singh had violated their hate speech rules and suggested banning his account.
But Das refused to act against Singh, who has tens of thousands of followers on Facebook and the company-owned Instagram, it added.
“Das, whose job also includes lobbying India’s government on Facebook’s behalf, told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from [Indian Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects,” the report said, quoting unnamed current and former employees.
Facebook spokesman Andy Stone “acknowledged that Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Singh a dangerous individual,” according to the WSJ report.
It said the company deleted some of Singh’s hate posts after the newspaper made queries, removed the blue tick mark signifying a verified account and was “still considering whether a ban is warranted”.
The report also mentioned at least two other BJP leaders, whose incendiary posts were reportedly deleted from the platform after the United States-based newspaper approached them for a response.
In his Facebook posts, Anantkumar Hegde, a BJP member of parliament, had alleged that Muslims were spreading coronavirus in the country as part of a conspiracy called “Corona Jihad”.
In March, as the virus began to spread across India, a significant right-wing accused a Muslim missionary movement called Tablighi Jamaat of spreading COVID-19. Dozens of Jamaat leaders were arrested.
The news has stirred a row in India.
“This expose on Facebook comes as a shock because one expects companies like Facebook to be professionally run and managed. New facts are emerging exposing the close ties of important officials of Facebook India with the BJP. Democracy needs to be insulated from being sabotaged by such unholy collusion,” said Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera.
Facebook said its policies on such matters are unbiased. “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,” a Facebook spokesperson said on queries relating to the claims in the WSJ story.