Facebook denounces hate, bigotry, its India chief says amid content row



FILE PHOTO: Ajit Mohan, Vice President and Managing Director, Facebook India, leaves after an interview with Reuters in Mumbai, India, June 13, 2019. REUTERS/Danish Siddiqui

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – Facebook <FB.O> is a non-partisan platform which denounces hate and bigotry, the company’s India head said on Friday, amid a controversy over how the U.S. social media giant regulates political content in its biggest market by number of users.

Facebook and its top lobbying executive in India, Ankhi Das, have faced criticism after a news report said she opposed applying hate-speech rules to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, and to a politician from India‘s ruling party who had called Muslims traitors in Facebook posts.

“The decisions around content escalations are not made unilaterally by just one person … the process comes with robust checks and balances,” Facebook’s India head, Ajit Mohan, wrote in an online post titled “We are open, transparent and non-partisan”.

Reuters this week reported that some Facebook employees in the United States and beyond had raised questions in internal forums about whether adequate content regulation practices were being followed by the India team.

In an internal open letter to Facebook’s leadership, 11 employees demanded that company leaders acknowledge and denounce “anti-Muslim bigotry” and ensure more policy consistency. One source had said there was a debate happening internally at Facebook about content moderation processes.

The controversy has been sparked by a recent Wall Street Journal report that said Das told staff that applying hate-speech rules to politicians close to India‘s ruling party “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.

“We take allegations of bias incredibly seriously, and want to make it clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in any form,” Mohan said in the post.

“We have removed and will continue to remove content posted by public figures in India when it violates our Community Standards.”

Facebook has been battling political fallout in India in recent days. The opposition Congress Party criticised Facebook for its policies, while some ruling-party lawmakers have accused it of censoring nationalist voices.


An Indian parliamentary panel on information technology will question Facebook executives on how it regulates content in the country, a panel member told Reuters on Friday.

Facebook has been summoned to appear on Sept. 2 and the discussion with Facebook will last for 30 minutes.

“The subject is serious because of Facebook’s extensive reach in India … and the potential for hate speech to incite violence and other unlawful behaviour,” said the panel member, who declined to be identified.

Facebook – which has more than 300 million users in India, its biggest market – did not respond to a request for comment on being summoned by the panel.

Facebook has long faced criticism for high-profile content moderation issues.

Its soon-to-be-operational content Oversight Board, which some have dubbed the company’s “Supreme Court”, said it was committed to protecting users.

“How Facebook treats posts from public figures that may violate the Community Standards are within the scope of the board,” the board told Reuters in a statement.

“We won’t shy away from the tough cases and holding Facebook accountable,” said the board, which has powers to overturn decisions by the company and Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg on whether individual pieces of content should be allowed or not.

Two Oversight Board members told Reuters on condition of anonymity they had not been briefed on the recent India issues. One of them said anti-Muslim hate speech is an issue the board was paying attention to more generally.

Facebook was handling the matter internally for now, but it was possible the India issue could become one of the cases the board reviews when it starts work in October, said the second member.

(Reporting by Aditya Kalra in New Delhi; Additional reporting by Elizabeth Culliford in London; Editing by Euan Rocha, Robert Birsel and Nick Macfie)



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