Asia News Sep 11

Facebook controversy attracts civil rights heat

Civil rights groups pull up Facebook for failing to address dangerous content in India that spurred violence

by AFP
Facebook controversy gains civil rights heat
Rapid Action Force (RAF) personnel patrol on a street of Devara Jevana Halli in Bangalore on August 13, 2020, after a "derogatory" Facebook post about the Prophet Mohammed sparked riots. Photo: AFP

Controversy over Facebook’s alleged bias towards India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party that erupted last month following a report by Wall Street Journal is increasingly turning thorny.

After the backlash from India’s main opposition Congress party last month August, Facebook has drawn the ire of global civil rights group, said the social network has failed to address dangerous content in India and demanded that the head of public policy there be removed.

On Wednesday, a letter addressed to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and his second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg called for the company’s India policy chief Ankhi Das to be sidelined pending the results of a civil rights audit, AFP reported.

"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.

Read more: Political blame-game in India puts Facebook in a tight spot

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

The social network last week banned an outspoken right-wing Indian politician. 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.

Was Facebook biased?

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 by number of users.

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

Social media giant 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.

Read more: Google, Facebook told to axe plan for undersea cable to Hong Kong