Rights groups say Facebook bias spurs violence in India

Agence France-Presse

Posted at Sep 10 2020 11:54 AM | Updated as of Sep 10 2020 11:57 AM

SAN FRANCISCO - Civil rights groups on Wednesday said Facebook has failed to address dangerous content in India and demanded that the head of public policy there be removed.

A letter addressed to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and his second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg wanted the social network's India policy chief Ankhi Das sidelined pending the results of a civil rights audit.

"Facebook should not be complicit in more offline violence, much less another genocide, but the pattern of inaction displayed by the company is reckless to the point of complicity," the letter stated.

"It is no secret, given the acknowledged and harsh realities of Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, that online violence and hate easily spill into violence in real life."

The letter was signed by more than 40 groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Witness, Muslim Advocates, and Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

It comes in the wake of controversy over anti-Muslim remarks posted on the page of a member of the ruling party that were not initially removed.

"The full extent of the harm done by Facebook India is yet to be determined, but even what we know now highlights the urgent and serious nature of these demands," the letter read.

Facebook has acknowledged in the past that it needs to do more to fight hate speech in India. The social network did not immediately respond to an AFP request for comment.

Facebook last week banned an outspoken right-wing Indian politician for spreading hate speech about Muslims as the social media giant battled accusations of bias over its handling of rival parties in the key market.

T. Raja Singh, a regional lawmaker for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, was blocked "for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform," a Facebook spokesman said at the time.

Raja made headlines for reportedly saying that Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar should be shot.

Facebook has been caught in the middle of accusations of bias from rival sides in India's feverish political battlefield. India is the American firm's biggest market in terms of number of users. 

Opposition parties said it favors the BJP after the Wall Street Journal reported that Das refused to take down anti-Muslim comments by Raja Singh because it could damage the company's business interests.

Facebook admitted last month that it has to do better to curb hate speech as it battled a storm over how it handled comments by a member of India's ruling party who called Muslims traitors.

"We've made progress on tackling hate speech on our platform, but we need to do more," Facebook India's managing director Ajit Mohan said in a statement that denied any bias.