A diverse team “representing a varied political spectrum” who have “political experience” is part of its policy-making process globally, Facebook said today in response to Congress allegations about pro-BJP bias of its India policy chief Ankhi Das. Enforcing policies on hate speech is “not made unilaterally by any one person”, added the social media giant, which has been under the spotlight following reports by Wall Street Journal that it overlooked hate speech posted by leaders of the ruling BJP and right wing voices.
In two letters to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, the Congress accused the social media giant of interfering in India’s democratic process and social harmony and being soft on members of the ruling BJP while applying its hate-speech rules.
Citing the WSJ article, the Congress, in its letter of August 18, wrote: “Specifically, the article states, “Ms Das (of Facebook India) has provided the BJP with election-related issues”. This is a damning and serious allegation of Facebook India’s interference in India’s electoral democracy”.
Responding to Congress’s KC Venugopal today, Facebook’s Neil Potts, Director of Public Policy, said they consult a “community of external voices” and a “broad cross-section of internal teams”.
“Public Policy is a diverse team representing a varied political spectrum, who have either served in many administrations or have political experience and take immense pride in being active contributors to public service — this is the case not only in India but also globally. Together, we have a non-partisan approach in dealing with content and have designed systems to ensure we are enforcing policies globally without regard for anyone’s past political positions, party affiliation, or beliefs,” read the letter, which, however, did not name Ms Das.
WSJ had reported that Ankhi Das, had advised against action, saying punishing violations by BJP workers “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”. It also reported that Ms Das “made internal postings over several years” detailing her support for the BJP and disparaging the Congress, triggering a huge political controversy.
At the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology yesterday, an MP also raised questions about the political affiliation of Ankhi Das with the BJP. It was suggested that she had got commercial ties with some ministries of the Central government. Facebook India chief Ajit Mohan, who attended the meeting, faced questions from the BJP members about his links with the Congress.
The hiring system of Facebook had also come under scrutiny, with sources saying it appears that the process lacks transparency and most employees have political affiliations.
“We removed 22.5 million pieces of hate speech content from April-June in 2020, up from 1.6 million pieces of hate speech content removed in the last quarter of 2017,” Facebook said in its letter, adding that it publishes transparency reports on action against harmful content.
Facebook also said it was non-partisan, takes allegations of bias seriously and “want to make clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in all forms”.
Facebook, which has 33 million users in India and considers the county among its largest markets, said it was “thankful” for the recommendations and can engage with the party further on these issues.