Facebook Inc has banned Bharatiya Janata Party MLA from Telangana, T Raja Singh, for violating its hate speech policies amid a growing controversy in India over how the social media company regulates its political content, The Wall Street Journal reported on Thursday.
The row began after the WSJ first reported on August 14 that Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by Singh, who had called Muslims traitors and also wrote that Rohingya refugees in India should be shot. Other BJP leaders’ posts were deleted from the platform after the newspaper approached them for a response to the article.
“We have banned Raja Singh from Facebook for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform,” a spokesperson told The Wall Street Journal. “The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to this decision.”
At least five profiles of Singh, having more than 3 lakh followers, showed the message that “this content is not available right now”.
Last month, Singh claimed that his official Facebook account had been “hacked and blocked” in 2018. The BJP MLA added that he only has an official YouTube and Twitter account, and claimed he had never made any incendiary remarks through these accounts.
On Wednesday, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned Facebook’s India head Ajit Mohan for more than two hours. Reports said that in the meeting, Opposition parties criticised the social media giant for not taking down inflammatory content posted by the BJP leaders.
“Facebook remains committed to be an open and transparent platform,” a spokesperson said in a statement issued after the meeting. The hearing ended without a resolution and Facebook representatives will be summoned again.
Hours before the panel meeting, a letter written on August 30 by the Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in West Bengal to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg was made public. This is the third letter written to Zuckerberg in three weeks by Opposition parties in India, accusing Facebook of political bias. The Congress wrote two such letters on August 18 and August 29.
TMC MP and party spokesperson Derek O’Brien said there was enough material available in the public domain to substantiate allegations of the social media company’s bias towards the BJP.
On Tuesday, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Zuckerberg and alleged that Facebook employees were abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior Cabinet ministers on record. Prasad also accused the social media company of censoring content from people supportive of right-wing ideology.
Contrary to the Union minister’s allegations, several reports emerged of Facebook favouring the BJP. According to one such report, Facebook removed 14 of the 44 pages flagged by the BJP for being opposed to it in January 2019. Currently, 14 of these pages are no longer on the social media platform. It has also emerged that the BJP was the top advertiser on Facebook on “social issues, elections and politics” over the last 18 months, according to the social media platform’s advertising spending tracker.
Citing another report published by Time magazine on August 27, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal last week alleged that the BJP had been allowed to exercise control of Whatsapp’s India operations. Facebook, the largest social media company in the world, also owns WhatsApp, the most popular social messaging app in India. The party has asked Zuckerberg what steps the social media company took to investigate allegations that its India team ignored hate speech policy to avoid ruining its relationship with the BJP. It also accused WhatsApp’s India team of allowing the messaging app for hate speech and consequent “tearing of India’s fabric of social harmony”.