Facebook Decries Hate in Reply to Congress, But Remains Silent on Ankhi Das, Demand for Probe

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Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Potts said, ‘We want to assure you that our Community Standards prohibit attacks against people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, caste, ethnicity, and national origin’

 Clarion India

NEW DELHI – Responding to the two letters written by the Congress, Facebook has said that it was non-partisan and denounces hate and bigotry.

The social networking giant said this in response to the two letters written by the party to the CEO Mark Zuckerberg, accusing Facebook’s leadership team of bias and showing favouritism to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

“We take seriously the concerns and recommendations you raised on behalf of the Indian National Congress”, said Neil Potts, Facebook’s director of Public Policy who oversees the Trust and Safety Policy Team, in his written reply to Congress general secretary K C Venugopal.

As reported by The Indian Express, there was no mention of the Congress’s demand that Facebook set up a time-bound “high-level inquiry” into its leadership team in India. Neither was there any mention of the charges levelled by the Congress against Facebook India’s Public Policy Director Ankhi Das on the basis of the articles which had appeared in The Wall Street Journal.

However, Potts argued that Facebook was “non-partisan” and strived to ensure that its platforms remained a space where people could express themselves freely.

“We take allegations of bias seriously and want to make clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in all forms. In the last interaction with you and other esteemed members of your party, we described our Community Standards—our policies on what is and isn’t allowed on Facebook—and shared the steps we have taken on our platforms in the wake of COVID-19”, Potts’s letter reads.

On the question of hateful contents by public figures, Potts further said, “we want to assure you that our Community Standards prohibit attacks against people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, caste, ethnicity, and national origin. In line with our hate speech policy, we have removed and will continue to remove hateful content by public figures in India on our platforms.”

He said as part of Facebook’s policy development process, it consulted a community of external voices, including civil society organizations, academics, and subject experts.

Potts said that they relied extensively on inputs from a broad cross-section of internal teams who understood both local and global contexts in the enforcement of Facebook’s policies on hate speech and dangerous organizations and individuals.

He also mentioned that Facebook had a team with deep expertise on terrorism and organised hate, who paid attention to global and regional trends and advise on these matters.

“These decisions are not made unilaterally by any one person; rather, they are inclusive of different views from teams around the company, a process that is critical to making sure we consider, understand, and account for both the local and global contexts,” he said.

 

The Congress wrote its first letter post Wall Street Journal’s report on Ankhi Das and her policy on business prospects. The journal, in its report, showed that  she didn’t apply “hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP who were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence” for preventing business prospects with the ruling party.

 “We want to ask the BJP…tell us Rashmi Das, who was a president of ABVP’s JNU unit, what is her relation with Ankhi Das, Facebook India’s Public Policy Director, how is she related to her?”, said Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken while addressing a press conference, citing her relation with the BJP.

Potts in his reply said “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.”

Further, he said Facebook was “committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity in the way we operate and in fostering an environment of free and safe expression on our platforms”.

Praveen Chakravarty, who heads the Data Analytics department of the Congress, responded to the reply by Facebook and said it was not a political issue. “This is about India’s democracy and use of digital weapons to disrupt India’s social order by a foreign company, at the behest of certain individuals in their leadership team,” he added.

“Facebook has thanked the Congress party for raising this concern and acknowledged its seriousness while not refuting any of the charges made against individuals of the Facebook India leadership team in the media articles in the letter we received from Facebook”, Chakravarty said.

He further said that Facebook officials had also expressed their desire to be non-partisan and continue to engage with the Congress party on these matters. “The Indian National Congress notes the response from Facebook Inc and their wish to be non-partisan and non-interfering in India’s affairs,” Chakravarty added.

The Congress, he said, “will await further concrete action from the global leadership of Facebook and demonstration of specific corrective measures being undertaken in Facebook & WhatsApp India. It must be reiterated that the media revelations on this issue were based on solid documentary evidence of internal communication and are hence incontrovertible.”

 

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