Facebook India head Ajit Mohan deposed before a parliamentary panel Wednesday and said the social media giant had found no cause to act against the Bajrang Dal – a right-wing group with ties to the ruling BJP – despite it being internally tagged as supporting violence against minorities.
Mr Mohan had originally been summoned by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology to discuss the safety of user data.
However, during the hearing Congress MP Karti Chidambaram referred to a report by The Wall Street Journal that said Facebook had allowed the Bajrang Dal to thrive because “cracking down… might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India”.
Mr Mohan told the panel members that Facebook’s fact-checking team had not, so far, found any content, among material posted by the Bajrang Dal, that violated its social media policies.
The Wall Street Journal report had referred to a video in which the Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility for an attack on a church outside Delhi in June; the video was allowed to collect 2.5 lakh views.
“Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook…,” The Journal wrote, quoting an internal report.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone told The Journal: “We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation.”
In August, articles by The Journal and TIME – alleged Facebook (and messaging service WhatsApp, which it owns) did not apply hate speech rules uniformly. Speeches by BJP leaders that circulated widely on these platforms ahead of violence in Delhi in February were cited; some were even played before the Delhi High Court.
The Journal also said a Facebook executive – later identified as Ankhi Das, who stepped down in October – suggested that punishing violations by BJP workers “would damage business prospects”.
Mr Mohan was also asked to appear before the Delhi Assembly’s Peace Committee in connection with these reports, but he declined the summons, declaring it a “brazen violation of my fundamental rights“.
Facebook has insisted it applied hate speech rules uniformly, and without consideration to political parties, but has also admitted it needs to do better to address the issue.
With input from PTi