Despite violating the company’s hate speech rule Facebook and Instagram continues to provide a platform to Indian politicians using hateful and aggressive remarks against Muslims. A member of India’s right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) party, T. Raja Singh took to social media threatening to demolish mosques, a tone of such domineer not only goes against Facebook policy but also proves to be menacing against Muslims. While such rhetoric needed to be dealt in an earnest manner by banning Singh permanently from the platform which, was also the official recommendation, the company proceeded to not take any action and allowed him to sustain his social media presence for his hundreds and thousands of followers. The top executive, of Facebook public-policy in India, Anki Das was the influence behind the decision stating that prohibition of BJP on social media platforms would be a devastating blow to the company as Facebook crossing 2 billion users makes India its largest user base.
This form of intercession by Ms. Das is not unexpected; rather it is a small incidence playing a part in a much larger prevalence which shows a pattern of similar conduct of partisanship by Facebook towards Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist BJP. This was further proved when no action was taken against BJP’s politicians when they took to social media blasting Muslims of deliberately spreading coronavirus. The post by Mr. Singh and other BJP members contained proactive statements presenting an anti-Muslim stance weren’t taken down until reporters from the Wall Street Journal brought the matter forward. As a result, Facebook deleted several of the posts and took Mr. Singh’s blue tick badge that authenticated his official account. In response, a Facebook spokesperson gave a statement negating any political association declaring, “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,”.
According to the Wall Street Journal, this contradicts the claim brought forward by Facebook’s former employees that favorable behavior was granted to BJP on election-related matters. There is substantial evidence that top Facebook executives in India have close ties with the country’s ruling BJP. This became apparent when a detailed account of Facebook providing support to Narendra Modi was published in the book The Real Face of Facebook in India, co-authored by the journalists Paranjoy Guha Thakurta and Cyril Sam. The book disclosed the back door digital propaganda spread by social media and its pivotal role in Modi’s electoral campaign. However, the most concrete confirmation was revealed by Shivnath Thukral, a former journalist who had close ties with Modi’s assistant Hiren Joshi. Both worked together to create website and web pages for the BJP. The twist comes when in 2017 Thukral was appointed as Facebook’s director of policy for India and South Asia. This piece of information is significant as it is alarming for a person of such knitted political affiliations to become a top official of an impartial platform that is presenting a non-allied front for all of South Asia.
This coalition between BJP and Facebook is mutually beneficial to both where on one hand Facebook gains millions of followers earning profits through advertisements the BJP in return is gaining access to voters. This strategy proved to be so successful that Modi’s online presence made him the most followed political leader on the social media platform winning him 90% of the targeted voters. The foul play behind this was long and complicit with Facebook and WhatsApp forming a nexus of dominant position controlling the narrative by spreading disinformation and propaganda promoting party’s agenda while the organizations and journalists that were critical of Modi’s regime got purposefully marginalized and censored. An article by Caravan magazine which censured Modi was not allowed to post on Facebook, while journalists publishing similar stuff were inexplicably locked out of their Facebook accounts. In a corresponding manner in 2016, Facebook censored posts, eliminated accounts of various academics and journalists, removed pages form new papers relating to the death of Burhan Wani a local Kashmiri freedom fighter further worsening the information blackout. The unifying factor in all these instances was that they were critical of the Modi government. While on one hand critics of Modi were being disparaged the BJP continued to spread notorious rhetoric and problematic content, leading to growing communal agitation between Hindus and Muslims.
This is not the first time Facebook’s global credibility has come under fire. It received allegations when London-based political consultancy firm Cambridge Analytica mined data of millions of users without their consent. Despite Mark Zuckerberg assertion implying that his “Mission is above Partisanship”, it has become clear that Facebook is bent upon taking a center stage in Global Politics. By resisting transparency, it has established itself as a digital giant with monopolistic surveillance of data that has the capacity to not only interfere in regional politics but has the potency to weaponize digital warfare.
Dua Sohail is a student of Social Sciences at IoBM. Her interests are Social Change, Modern Philosophy and Politics.