Days after the Congress wrote two letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg accusing the social media giant’s India leadership of bias and showing favouritism to the BJP, Facebook has responded to the Congress.
Replying to Congress general secretary K C Venugopal, who had sent two letters to Zuckerberg last month, Neil Potts, Facebook’s director of Public Policy who oversees the Trust and Safety Policy Team said, “we take seriously the concerns and recommendations you raised on behalf of the Indian National Congress.”
However, 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.
Potts argued that Facebook is “non-partisan” and strives to ensure that its platforms remain a space where people can 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.”
“On the question of hateful contents by public figures, 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.
He said as part of Facebook’s policy development process, it consults a community of external voices, including civil society organizations, academics, and subject experts.
“We also rely extensively on inputs from a broad cross-section of internal teams who understand both local and global contexts in the enforcement of our policies on hate speech and dangerous organizations and individuals. We have a team with deep expertise on terrorism and organized hate, who pay 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’s first letter came after the Wall Street Journal reported that Das, Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, citing business reasons, 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”. Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken had then said: “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?”
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 is “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”.
Responding to the reply by Facebook, Praveen Chakravarty, who heads the Data Analytics department of the Congress, 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 said.
“We have today received a response from Facebook Inc. 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. They have 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 said.
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.”