Facebook bias spurs violence in India, US rights groups say

Civil rights groups on Wednesday said Facebook has failed to address hateful content in India as they demanded that the company’s head of public policy there be removed.

A letter addressed to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg and his second-in-command Sheryl Sandberg wanted the social network’s India policy chief Ankhi Das sidelined pending the results of a civil rights audit.

“Facebook should not be complicit in more offline violence, much less another genocide, but the pattern of inaction displayed by the company is reckless to the point of complicity,” said the letter signed by more than 40 groups including the Southern Poverty Law Center, Witness, Muslim Advocates, and Global Project Against Hate and Extremism.

“It is no secret, given the acknowledged and harsh realities of Facebook’s role in the Rohingya genocide in Myanmar, that online violence and hate easily spill into violence in real life.”

The letter comes in the wake of controversy over anti-Muslim remarks posted on the page of a member of the ruling party that were not initially removed.

“The full extent of the harm done by Facebook India is yet to be determined, but even what we know now highlights the urgent and serious nature of these demands,” the letter read.

The world’s biggest social media company last week banned a politician from India’s governing Hindu nationalist party for spreading hate speech against Muslims as it battled accusations of bias over its handling of rival parties in the key market.

T Raja Singh, a regional lawmaker for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was blocked “for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform,” a Facebook spokesman said at the time.

Singh has made headlines for his anti-Muslim hate speech. The right-wing politician had demanded that Rohingya refugees be shot, called India’s Muslims traitors and threatened to demolish mosques in his Facebook posts and public speeches.

India is the American firm’s biggest market with more than 300 million users while the company’s messaging app, WhatsApp, boasts 400 million users in the world’s second-most populous nation.

Politicians within Modi’s BJP have come under scrutiny for running online campaigns laced with false claims and attacks on the minority Muslim population.

Dozens of Muslims have been lynched in the past six years by vigilantes, with many of the incidents triggered by fake news regarding cow slaughter or smuggling shared on WhatsApp.

‘Tsunami of hate posts’

Opposition parties said the social media company favours the BJP after the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported that Facebook’s Ankhi Das refused to take down anti-Muslim comments by Raja Singh because it could damage the company’s business interests.

Last week, an Indian parliamentary committee grilled Ajit Mohan, the managing director of Facebook India, following the WSJ report that exposed the pro-BJP bias in the company.

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