“He didn’t get elected because of Russia or misinformation or Cambridge Analytica. He got elected because he ran the single best digital ad campaign I’ve ever seen from any advertiser. Period,” had said in a post.
Facebook has long faced allegations around the world of letting hate speech pass without acting upon it, and even playing a role in voter behavious and election results, which the company has denied. To the point that The New York Times said that in countries that are tinderboxes, Facebook acted as a match. The article highlighted how, in developing countries Facebook let misinformation and hate speech flow unchecked.
In India, the social media company, which also owns WhatsApp and Instagram, has allowed entities linked to political parties, especially the BJP, to operate propaganda pages that masquerade as fan pages or independent news sites. Last month, a news report published by The Wall Street Journal, which said the social media company had issued favourable treatment to BJP leaders ahead of the 2019 general election, had kicked off a controversy.
Acting on the complaints received on the basis of the report, Delhi’s peace and harmony committee, which is probing the Delhi riots, said on Monday that Facebook was prima facie “complicit” in aggravating the violence.
This is just the latest in a bunch of reports on Facebook’s alleged political bias in India that have come to the fore in the past month. One of the more significant allegations is its alleged bias towards the BJP — a party that is also the largest political adviser on the social media platform.
The allegations in India range from refusing to take down hate speech by BJP leaders, to the latest — that it took down 14 of the 44 pages of ‘rivals’ that BJP had flagged.
Here’s a look at all the allegations of BJP bias that Facebook is facing:
Took down ‘rival’ pages of BJP
The Indian Express reported on Tuesday that Facebook not only allegedly took down 14 pages that were opposed to the BJP, it also reinstated 17 pages on the request of the BJP.
The requests were reportedly made through BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya to Facebook India Public Policy executives Ankhi Das and Shivnath Thukral.
The report said that some of the pages that BJP requested to take down included the official account of Chandrashekhar Azad-led Bhim Army, a vocal critic of the BJP, unofficial pages that supported the Congress, and a page that shared fact-checks by Alt News. The report said that two of the pages that were actually taken down were in support of journalists Ravish Kumar and Vinod Dua.
The requests were made to Facebook ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, The Indian Express reported.
Read the entire report on The Indian Express here.
Did not take down hate speech by BJP leaders
A Wall Street Journal report alleged that Facebook’s top policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, told employees that punishing hate speech by BJP leaders in India would damage the company’s “business prospects” in India. The leaders with hate speech posts mentioned in the report include Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh and MP and former Union minister Anantkumar Hegde.
When Reuters asked Facebook for a comment, it said, “While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits.”
Ankhi Das allegedly wanted to help BJP win
In yet another scathing report on August 30, WSJ said that Ankhi Das not only supported the BJP openly, she also did not hide that she wanted to help the BJP win.
WSJ reported Jeff Horwitz said in a tweet, “A top FB policy exec openly detailed her efforts to help a favored political party win and her disdain for its opponents. FB didn’t stop her — and never spoke up about blatant election misconduct on the platform. This is FB India, but it matters here, too.”
WSJ’s report says Das’s posts supporting the ruling party were made between 2012 and 2014 on a group which had several hundred employees as members.
The report quotes a message by Das posted the day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi won the 2014 election: “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.”
Horwitz alleged that Das received (and shared) internal election predictions from “senior leader and close friend in BJP” and celebrated the downfall of the Congress and “state socialism”.
Did not act against BJP when it violated ad rules
The WSJ report on August 30 also alleges that Facebook refused to take action when it found that BJP was violating ad rules.
The report said that ad purchases for the BJP had been made to the tune of thousands of dollars by entities that did not disclose their relation to the BJP.
Sources told The Economic Times that apart from buying its own ads, several newly created organisations bought ads “that didn’t disclose the party’s role.”