Facebook Executive in India Files Police Complaint for Death Threats After Report on Content Practices

A top Facebook executive in India has filed a police complaint in New Delhi saying she is receiving death threats following a media report that said she and the US social network company allegedly favoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party.

Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India, in her complaint to Delhi police said some individuals online had “intentionally vilified” her due to their political affiliations and were engaging in abuse, Indian media reported.

Das has said the threats followed a report last week that said she opposed applying Facebook’s hate-speech rules to a member of PM Modi’s party and some other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence”.

“I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me,” Das said in her complaint, according to India’s Hindu newspaper.

A spokesman for the Delhi Police did not respond to calls and text messages from Reuters.

Das and Facebook did not respond to a request for comment on the police complaint. Facebook on Monday referred Reuters to a weekend statement that said it prohibited hate speech irrespective of one’s political position but acknowledged, “there is more to do”.

The WSJ article has sparked a political storm in India and raised questions about Facebook’s content regulation practices.

Das had told staff that punishing violations by politicians from PM Modi’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”, the WSJ article said.

For Facebook, which has over 300 million users in India, the controversy comes months after it invested $5.7 billion in the digital unit of India’s Reliance Industries.

The company was also seen close to receiving permission to launch a payments service on WhatsApp, which also counts India as its biggest market with more than 400 million users.

Politicians trading barbs

India’s main opposition Congress has seized on the WSJ story to seek a parliamentary investigation of Facebook employees’ alleged ties with PM Modi’s BJP.

On Sunday, Congress said on Twitter, “Millions of Indians are controlled and manipulated by BJP through Facebook,” and WhatsApp.

BJP lawmakers in turn accused Facebook of censoring nationalist voices, with lawmaker and former minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore in a column in the Indian Express newspaper on Monday accused Facebook of being a “Left-Congress-leaning platform.”

“This storm in a teacup is merely an exercise to browbeat Facebook for ‘allowing’ certain opinions to even exist,” Rathore wrote.

“There are examples of current and former Facebook executives with links to the former government and opposition parties, and some of them have been openly critical of the prime minister as well. To accuse them of being pro-BJP is laughable.”

Tejasvi Surya, another BJP lawmaker and a member of a parliamentary committee on information technology, said many people had complained to him that Facebook was “unfairly censoring many nationalist, pro-India or pro-Hindu voices”, and that he would take up the matter with relevant authorities.

© Thomson Reuters 2020

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