Facebook Anti-Hate Speech Controversy and its implementation in India

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The Wall Street Journal, a US-based news agency published a new report. This report is about Facebook and its anti-hate speech policy. The report claims that the heads of Facebook India are acting partially. They are partial towards applying their policy against BJP. BJP is currently the ruling party in India.

This report claims that T. Raja Singh on his Facebook account posted objectionable content. This content was not removed. It also reports that Ankhi Das stopped the application of Facebook’s policy against 4 politicians. All of them belong to the BJP party.

What is the Facebook Anti Hate Speech Policy all about?

Facebook community standards have a policy against hate speeches. They have given definitions as a direct attack on any person’s protected characteristics. These being their race, ethnicity, nationality, affiliation with religion. These characteristics also include caste, sex, gender, serious disease, or disability.

Any attack on any of these characteristics falls under the radar for hate speech. By the word “attack” they mean violent or dehumanizing speech, inferiority statements. They even include statements or calls meant for exclusion or segregation. Any post which is found violating their anti-hate speech policy is removed from the website. And continuous sharing of such content leads to termination of accounts.  

But when someone shares hate speech with another person, it may or may not be removed. This decision is taken after the intention or how it is shared is checked. If it is used for raising awareness or educating people, it won’t be removed.

If words or terms are used which violate standards, they might not be removed. This happens when these words are shared for self- reference. Or even in the context of a romantic way. Basic check for the test of violation is the test of intent. The intention of sharing the post and the way it has been shared is kept in check.

All the instances which may lead to a hate speech fall under 3 different tiers. These tiers are made based on the seriousness of the content. Facebook allows that criticism of any policy or person. But this criticism should not be degrading. 

What is the Controversy?

Facebook is known for its strong anti-hate policy. A new report of WSJ states the opposite. The report states that Facebook has intentionally left objectionable material on their website. This material was posted by a member of parliament from India. This legislator belonged to the current government from BJP.

T Raja Singh, a BJP MP from Telangana. His posts contained calls for the killing of Rohingya migrants. As per the reports, leaders at Facebook deliberately did this. They deliberately stopped compliance with their standard community guidelines in this case.

It was told to the public that Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, Facebook asked employees to leave such content. She asked this because such action could harm their financial interest in India. WSJ published this report after learning about an email from @muslim. This is an internal Muslim organization of Facebook. When the report was published by the WSJ, statements were issued by Facebook regarding this situation.

Ajit Mohan, Vice president and MD of Facebook India started this controversy. He said that Facebook is an open and transparent platform. It is a non-partisan platform meant to let people express themselves freely. He also said that Facebook has a clear policy to stop any sort of hate speech.

How did Indians react to this?

As soon as this news report became viral, Indians started targeting BJP. #Anti-India Facebook started trending over twitter. There were around 41k tweets regarding the same. Congress party used this moment for attacking BJP. Rahul Gandhi was amongst the most prominent Congress leader who led this attack. Rahul Gandhi claimed that BJP used these platforms for spreading hate.

Mr. Gandhi also tweeted that BJP uses these platforms to influence electorates. Mr. Shashi Tharoor is a member of the parliamentary committee on Information Technology. He tweeted that the committee would like to hear from Facebook over these allegations. TMC MP Mr. Derek O’Brien tweeted regarding the same. He told me about the time when he spoke in parliament. This speech of his was about the bias that Facebook does.  

In reply to these attacks, BJP launched a counter-attack. They tweeted about the Cambridge Analytica controversy. BJP politician Kapil Mishra tweeted that Cambridge Analytica was just the tip of the ice-berg. He claimed that Congress was blackmailing Facebook to hide their bigger crimes.

Meanwhile, a panel from the Delhi Assembly has decided to call Facebook. The panel would call Ankhi Das and some of her colleagues for answering their questions. This questioning session will be used to check the role that Facebook might have had on the Delhi Riots in 2020.

Meanwhile, before the parliamentary committee could call Facebook a new controversy arose. One of the BJP members of this committee Nishikant Dubey accused Mr. Tharoor of violating the committee rules. As per him, there was a violation of rule 269(1) of the Parliamentary rule book.

Why is this Worrisome?

Facebook has around 2.45 billion active users currently. It is a place where people can present their views freely. This idea is such a revolutionary idea. A platform where one can speak his mind freely. But as the saying goes that with great power comes great responsibility.

Facebook has to constantly remove content which might be violating their rules. They have to do so because content on Facebook influences people. It has given a common ground for all humans. All of us find a group for ourselves on this. But the side effects social media has on us are high. They have given people a platform to hate. Any sort of false news can be read and shared on it. Multiple incidents have been reported where violence has been caused due to such fake news. People get easily influenced by these sources. And this could happen to anyone.

Even PM Narendra Modi once shared such news articles in parliament. BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya is also known for sharing fake news. Several violent incidents have also happened due to such fake news. Many died during corona due to consuming something. They consumed it after reading about it on social media. People have a sense of trust towards things they read on social media.

Thus social media owners should restrict objectionable content. They should not let it reach the audience. 

Conclusion

Social media is slowly converting the world into a global village. The physical distance between people is no bar for sharing ideas. This has also moved humans towards tribalism. Humans after living in a vast and open society are now moving towards the tribe. These tribes are not usually existing on the ground. They are formed online.

Communication between the tribe members also happens online. This tribalism is dangerous for the modern world. If the data shared among the tribe members is not checked then it will lead to chaos. Because if the users have absolute power to share anything, it will lead to anarchy and violence.

Facebook and all other social media outlets should censor objectionable content. And this should be done irrespective of the person who has shared such things. This will help in controlling the far-reaching side effects of social media.

Facebook should be asked questions and they should provide their answers. This will help in finding the truth. And this will also help in earning the trust of citizens of India.


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