Facebook refrained from taking action against Hindutva group Bajrang Dal due to political and business considerations and concern for the safety of its employees, even though an internal security team flagged the group as a “dangerous organisation” that supported violence against minorities in India, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.
The Bajrang Dal is part of the Sangh Parivar, the larger family of right-wing organisations affiliated to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh. The RSS is also the ideological mentor of India’s ruling party, the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Facebook’s safety team had said that the organisation should be banned from the platform. The Bajrang Dal, in a video, had claimed responsibility for an attack on a church Delhi in June. The video was viewed nearly 2.5 lakh times on Facebook.
The company, however, did not ban Bajrang Dal after an internal report from the security team warned that a crackdown on the group “might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India”. “Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities,” the internal report said.
Apart from Bajrang Dal, Facebook’s security team also warned against banning two other right-wing groups, Sanatan Sanstha and Sri Ram Sena, from the platform.
The WSJ report added that Facebook’s security team considered the fact that the social media company had a significant presence in India. “In many countries where Facebook is available, the company doesn’t have staff,” it said. “But it has a significant presence in India, with five offices, including in New Delhi and Mumbai. Those facilities and their people are what the company’s security team zeroed in on as potential risks of retaliation from extremists.”
A group of Facebook employees, on the other hand, said in an internal letter that the presence of Bajrang Dal on its platform, among other organisations, “casts doubt on the company’s commitment to tackle hate speech in India”.
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Facebook Spokesperson Andy Stone told The Wall Street Journal that the company enforced its “Dangerous Individuals and Organisations” policy across the world without “regard to political position or party affiliation”. He, however, said that the security team’s warning about Bajrang Dal was “subject for discussion as part of the standard process”.
Facebook became the Centre of a controversy in India in August after the The Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s India’s Public Policy Director Ankhi Das opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders, warning that this could hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in its biggest market, India.
Das stepped down from her position on October 27. A parliamentary IT panel led by Shashi Tharoor had summoned Das for questioning. She was questioned for two hours by the members, who reportedly asked her some “tough and searching questions”. In September, the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology had also questioned Facebook India head Ajit Mohan.
Several other reports have also 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. In August, it had also emerged that the BJP was the top advertiser on Facebook on “social issues, elections and politics” over the previous 18 months, according to the social media platform’s advertising spending tracker information.