On Aug. 14, 2020, Newley Purnell and Jeff Horwitz of the Wall Street Journal reported of possible political favoritism shown by Facebook in its content moderation of posts on Facebook by ruling party Hindu nationalist politicians in India. These allegations of political bias come as Facebook faces similar claims of political bias for and against Donald Trump and conservatives in the United States. The Wall Street Journal article relies on "current and former Facebook employees familiar with the matter." According to the article, in its content moderation, Facebook flagged posts by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politician, T. Raja Singh, and other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups for “promoting violence”--which should have resulted in the suspension of his Facebook account. But Facebook executives allegedly intervened in the content moderation. Facebook's "top public-policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das, opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Mr. Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, said the current and former employees." Ankhi Das is a top Facebook official in India and lobbies India’s government on Facebook’s behalf. Das reportedly explained her reasoning to Facebook staff that "punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users."
According to the Wall Street Journal article, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, "acknowledged that Ms. Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Mr. Singh a dangerous individual, but said her opposition wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Mr. Singh remain on the platform." Facebook said it has not yet decided whether it will ban the BJP politician from the social media platform.
The WSJ article gives examples of alleged political favoritism to the BJP party. Facebook reportedly announced its action to remove inauthentic pages to Pakistan’s military and the Congress party, which is BJP’s rival. However, Facebook made no such announcement when it removed BJP’s inauthentic pages because Das interceded. Facebook's safety staff determined that Singh's posts warranted a permanent ban from Facebook, but Facebook only deleted some of Singh's posts and stripped his account of verified status. In addition, Facebook's Das praised Modi in an essay in 2017 and she shared on her Facebook page "a post from a former police official, who said he is Muslim, in which he called India’s Muslims traditionally a 'degenerate community' for whom 'Nothing except purity of religion and implementation of Shariah matter.'"
On August 16, 2020, Facebook's Das filed a criminal complaint against journalist Awesh Tiwari for a post he made on his Facebook page about the WSJ article. Das alleges a comment someone posted to Tiwari's page constituted a threat against her.
--written by Alfa Alemayehu