Facebook insists it did not tweak hate speech moderation guidelines in India

Facebook insists it did not tweak hate speech moderation guidelines in India
Photo Credit: Reuters
17 Aug, 2020

Amidst criticism from multiple quarters, Menlo Park, California headquartered Facebook maintained that there has been no interference from its public policy team in India in moderating hate speech posted by members of the country’s ruling party on the platform. 

The Mark Zuckerberg led social media company insisted that it continues to enforce regulations on hate speech globally irrespective of political affiliations of the person posting the content. 

On Friday, the Wall Street Journal reported, citing anonymous current and former Facebook employees, that Ankhi Das, the company’s public policy head in India, had “opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Mr Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting and participating in violence…” Singh, in the article, refers to BJP MLA T Raja Singh.

Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told the publication in the same article that “Ms Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Mr Singh a dangerous individual…”

Responding to email queries from TechCircle, a Facebook spokesperson said, “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.”

The spokesperson did not respond to questions on the platform being asked to respond to the charges in the Wall Street Journal article to the parliamentary standing committee on information technology. 

The article was flagged by activist Saket Gokhale, who wrote to member of the parliament Shashi Tharoor on August 15. Tharoor had responded on Twitter, “Our Parliamentary committee will, in the normal course, consider testimony under the topic ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights & prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms’. The subject is squarely within the IT Cmt’s mandate& @Facebook has been summoned in the past.” 

Another member of the committee, Mahua Moitra said on Twitter, “I agree - we in the IT Comm need to look into this on an urgent basis please.”

Meanwhile, Das, filed a police complaint in Delhi on Sunday alleging threat to her life. In the complaint she accused Gokhale of circulating her pictures on Twitter with defamatory comments. 

India is one of Facebook’s key markets. Its widely popular chat app WhatsApp also has around 400 million Monthly Active Users (MAUs) according to the company’s statement in 2019. In April, the company announced its plans to invest $5.7 billion in India’s largest telecom operator Reliance Jio in lieu of a near 10% stake.

Facebook India recently also launched its short video feature on its app in India. The launch came shortly after ByteDance backed TikTok was banned by the Indian government on June 29 citing security concerns.

Facebook also launched a short video product, Reels, on its photo-sharing platform Instagram in July.

The space has seen a host of new players such as Chingari, Mitron and Trell try to corner market share, apart from existing players like ShareChat and MX Player launching separate apps, Moj and Takatak respectively,  to cash in on the trend. 

“We’re always testing new creative tools so we can learn about how people want to express themselves. Short form videos are extremely popular and we are looking at new ways to provide this experience for people to connect, create and share on Facebook,”  Facebook spokesperson said in response to specific queries by TechCircle.

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