Facebook India’s Vice President and Managing Director Ajit Mohan on Monday defended the company’s policies and said that its content and public policy teams were separate, reported Hindustan Times. The social media giant is facing allegations that it did not properly apply hate speech rules, contributing to the communal violence that hit the Capital in February. At least 53 people were killed and scores injured in the violence that rocked Northeast Delhi for days.
“I do think while scrutiny on our decisions is fair, I think the allegation of bias in this case is not true,” Mohan said in an interview with the newspaper. “That decision making power doesn’t sit with the public policy team in India.” He was replying to question about the report that said the company’s public policy team in India was biased in favour of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party.
“Lot of the scrutiny was about our content policy enforcement and some of it relating to what we call the designation process (which limits the presence on a platform as a whole) of particular individuals or organisations. Some of the designation process especially when it involves elected people, we are very careful about. That is meant by design as our bias is towards keeping as much speech on the platform as possible, even though there is no exception for violation of our community standards on hate speech for anyone.”— Ajit Mohan
The company is facing intense political scrutiny in India, after a report on Wall Street Journal on August 14 said that Facebook’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders. A memo by a data scientist who was fired from Facebook Inc had also revealed that the social media company ignored or has been slow to deal with fake accounts that have affected elections around the world.
Mohan defended his company’s policies and said BJP legislator T Raja Singh’s post was taken down back in 2018 and not after the Wall Street Journal article as it violated the hate speech policy. However, the company banned the saffron party leader only in September. “When it comes to designating an elected official, it is thoughtful and deliberate and the article came out while we were in the middle of that process,” said Mohan. “The public policy team doesn’t have enforcement power, no individual has any unilateral decision making power and the public policy team reports to me whereas the content policy team does not.”
Asked about Das’ posts that purportedly showed her as a supporter of the Indian prime minister, Mohan said that as a company, Facebook values people for their public service. “So long as their work when they are in Facebook is objective and non-partisan... and our policies and processes are designed to ensure that it is objective,” he added.
“The fact that people have done work or hold a particular political belief or hold a political philosophy, that is okay. People inside the company are from across the political spectrum. Wherever we can, our bias is towards retaining free speech.”— Ajit Mohan
He, however, refused to answer when asked the reason for not appearing before the Delhi government’s committee. Mohan also refused to speak about matters that are subjudice.
On September 15, the panel had warned the social media platform that not appearing before it was not only in “contempt” of the Assembly but also an “insult” to the two crore people of Delhi.
The nine-member Delhi Assembly panel, mostly comprising AAP legislators along with one from the BJP, said they are well within their rights to summon the executives to answer serious charges levelled against them.
Facebook has repeatedly denied the allegations. “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation,” a Facebook spokesperson had claimed. “While we know there is more to do, we are making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”
However, in September, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned 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.