Facebook India executive Ankhi Das apologised to Muslim employees in the company for sharing a post on her Facebook page which called Muslims in India a “degenerate community” for whom “nothing except purity of religion and implementation of Shariah matter”, Buzzfeed’s Pranav Dixit reported.
The post had been written by a former police officer in response to the anti-CAA protests and had been shared by Das on her page in 2019
In the internal message written by Das to employees, she said, “The intent of my personal Facebook post was not to denigrate Islam… It was to reflect my deep belief in celebrating feminism and civic participation. I value all perspectives I have heard over the past days about how the post was received and as a result I have deleted the post. I genuinely regret any hurt it may have caused, including to my Muslim colleagues in the company,” Buzzfeed reported.
Several employees responded to Das’s message. One wrote: “As a company, we now need to do an honest reflection of hate speech and Islamophobia against Muslims on our platform. In a market where public figures like T. Raja Singh engage in blatant hate speech, as well as incites violence, against the Muslim community, we need to do more to protect the vulnerable.”
Facebook and Ankhi Das, who is the company’s policy director for India and South and Central Asia, faced criticism after a Wall Street Journal report said she opposed applying hate-speech rules to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, including a BJP’s T. Raja Singh who had called Muslims traitors in Facebook posts.
Das reportedly 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”.
On Tuesday, The Peace and Harmony Committee of the Delhi Assembly said it found that Facebook was not a content-neutral platform and had decided to summon senior Facebook officials including Ms Ankhi Das. “The committee will further investigate allegations ranging from the role of Facebook to incite the Delhi riots and other riots,” AAP MLA Raghav Chadha said.
Facebook last Friday said it was a non-partisan platform which denounces hate and bigotry.
“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”.
“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.”
Reuters reported last week 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.
Following the WSJ report, Congress criticised Facebook for its policies, while some BJP lawmakers accused it of censoring nationalist voices.
Ankhi Das has been nurturing her relationship with the BJP long before they were even in power.
— Congress (@INCIndia) August 19, 2020
On Monday, a group of 54 retired civil servants wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg asking the company to audit of the social media platform’s hate speech policy in India and ensure Ankhi Das is not “in a position to influence the investigations” while the audit is underway.
A parliamentary panel on information technology led by Congress’s Shashi Tharoor will question Facebook executives on how it regulates content in the country. Facebook has been summoned to appear on Sept. 2 and the discussion with Facebook will last for 30 minutes.