One of Facebook’s top executives in India wants police to investigate death threats and abuse she received on social media after a report revealed that she herself intervened to keep in line anti-Muslim hate speech by politicians of India’s ruling party, Bharatiya Jana.
On Monday, Ankhi Das, Facebook’s public policy director for India, South and Central Asia, filed a police report in New Delhi indicating that six Facebook and Twitter accounts she said were threatening her, asking the police to arrest the people behind the accounts and provide protection.
The move came after the the Wall Street newspaper reported that Das had protected T. Raja Singh, a state-level BJP politician, and at least three other Hindu nationalists, from sanctions for breaking Facebook’s hate speech rules. In Facebook posts, Singh reportedly called for the slaughter of Muslims, leading social network security personnel to determine that he should be banned under his “dangerous individuals and organizations” policy.
But since Das reportedly determined that punishing BJP officials would be bad for business, Singh was allowed to continue using the platform.
Das did not respond to a request for comment.
Allegations about Facebook’s preferential treatment of the Indian Conservative Party come after BuzzFeed News reported that his colleagues on the company’s political team intervened to prevent right-wing organizations in the United States from being punished for sharing false information. The reports sparked outrage from Facebook employees, who asked CEO Mark Zuckerberg why executives including Joel Kaplan, Facebook’s vice president of global public policy and Das boss, aided conservative pages including Breitbart. News and PragerU, to bend their rules.
While Kaplan has once been under pressure, Das – who has worked on Facebook since 2011 – is now under close scrutiny. On Tuesday, members of the Congress Party, India’s main opposition, wrote a letter to Zuckerberg to request an investigation into the company’s operations in India. Members of the Aam Aadmi party, which governs Delhi, said that they would summon Das and other Facebook executives to question them about the Journal report.
This investigation could expand nationwide: Sunday, Shashi Tharoor, member of parliament from the Congress party and head of the Indian parliamentary committee on information technology, tweeted that the committee “would certainly like to hear from Facebook”.
In addition to threats on Twitter, Das has also become the object of abuse on Facebook’s own platforms.
“Since the evening of August 14, 2020, I have received violent threats against my life and my body.”
“Since the evening of August 14, 2020, I have received violent threats against my life and body, and I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment inflicted on me by the defendants,” Das wrote in her complaint to the police. “The content, which even includes my photograph, clearly threatens my life and body and I fear for my safety and that of my family. The content also tarnishes my reputation based on a news article and I am a victim of insults, cyberbullying and online. “
As of Tuesday morning, some of the tweets appeared to have been deleted, but some of the Facebook accounts behind the abuse were still active. Das’ Instagram account has also been targeted by people calling for his hanging.
“Even women’s rights groups and feminists can’t save you if you don’t stop,” said one of the threats on Facebook in Hindi.
Anyesh Roy, who heads Delhi Police’s Cybercrime Department, did not respond to a BuzzFeed News request for comment.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone declined to comment for this story, but shared an earlier statement that did not specifically name Das.
“We ban hate speech and content that incites violence and we apply these policies globally regardless of political position or party membership,” he said.
One of Facebook’s top policymakers outside of the United States, Das is closely linked to the BJP, helping oversee one of the company’s largest and most populous markets with more than 300 million users. . A Guardian 2016 item on Facebook’s controversial Internet access program, Free Basics, which India banned in 2016 for violating net neutrality, described it as enjoying “exceptionally good access in the corridors of power of Delhi ”.
Former employees who have worked directly with Das in the past and who did not wish to be named described her to BuzzFeed News as a “difficult boss.” For years, Das and his team have operated almost independently from the rest of the business in the country, would have working on a $ 40,000-a-month collection of suites at a five-star hotel in central Delhi, miles from Facebook’s Indian headquarters in the city of Gurgaon.
“He’s a strong personality,” someone familiar with Das told BuzzFeed News. “She might not be the easiest boss to work with, but I think her words carry a lot of weight within the company.”
“She is actively involved in the business decisions of Facebook in India,” said another person familiar with Das’ work.
Relatives of Das who spoke to BuzzFeed News on condition of anonymity said keeping politicians happy was part of his job.
“Facebook will not be allowed to operate in India if it stands up to the government.”
“Unlike the United States, you can’t stand up to the government and make your business survive,” one said. “A Ben & Jerry’s can be blatantly anti-Trump and not be hit by crazy lawsuits or have their CEO arrested. As broken as this country may be, the rule of law is still strong. Facebook will not be allowed to operate in India if it stands up to the government. “
“Having said that,” they added, “I cannot say that I am not disappointed with what happened.”
Part of the anger directed at Das stems from the fact that she also shared anti-Muslim content on her own Facebook page. On Friday, the Journal reported that Das republished an article by Najmul Hoda, a former police official, who called Muslims in India a “degenerate community” for whom “nothing but purity of religion and the implementation of Sharia matters ”.
The message “spoke to me last night,” Das wrote on Facebook last December. “Like it should be rest of India. “
BuzzFeed News discovered that this was not the only anti-Muslim post she had shared from Hoda. In April, the former police official wrote a lengthy memo suggesting that the Muslim community “act responsibly” to prevent the spread of coronavirus in the country. While the post does not contain specific examples of disinformation linking Muslims to the pandemic, it came around the same time as Indian far-right politicians and news stations defamed Indian Muslims for spreading the virus, sparking a wave of anti-Muslim hate speech across the country.
“Najmul Hoda – thank you for being a voice of reason and reason,” Das wrote after reposting her note on her page, which features a cover photo of herself in conversation with Zuckerberg. “Hopefully this will lead to the right kind of awakening and voluntary collective action to thwart this epidemiological nightmare.