Facebook India should immediately place its public policy head Ankhi Das on a leave of absence pending a full audit of the company and an investigation into her statements as reported in The Wall Street Journal, a coalition of 41 civil rights groups have demanded.
In a letter addressed to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and the social networking giant’s Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg, the groups said that “should the audit or investigation reinforce the details of The Wall Street Journal, she should be removed from her role.”
A Wall Street Journal report on August 14 said that the top leadership at Facebook’s India office refused to apply the company’s own rules to politicians from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), despite clear violations of Facebook’s policies against incitement to violence, hate speech, and misinformation.
Das reportedly “told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Mr. Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country.”
Following the report, the opposition Congress Party raised the issue of what it calls “unholy nexus” of the ruling BJP with Facebook and WhatsApp.
On August 18, the Congress Party wrote a letter to Facebook Inc expressing concern and asking them to acknowledge the issue and take corrective action. Congress had raised alarm over “interference in India’s internal affairs by a foreign company”.
Amid the raging controversy over Facebook’s alleged bias, the company’s India boss Ajit Mohan appeared before the Parliamentary standing committee on Information Technology earlier this month to answer the panel’s queries.
“We call on you to ensure that the ongoing human rights audit of Facebook India reported by Time Magazine is overseen by high level staff in your Menlo Park office,” the rights groups wrote in the letter dated September 9.
They also urged the company to increase engagement with human rights and grassroots organizations in conducting the audit and devising solutions to the continuing problem of dangerous content on the platform.
Stating that “mass riots in India spurred on by content posted on Facebook have been occurring for at least seven years,” the rights groups said the social networking giant must take immediate steps to ensure the independence and thoroughness of the ongoing human rights audit of its India operations.
“During the audit, Facebook should cease its elections operations until a full review has been conducted. More operations during elections could lead to serious human rights violations,” wrote the groups including Global Project Against Hate and Extremism and Hope Not Hate.