Ankhi Das, Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, has apologised to Muslim employees in the company for a post she had shared on her personal profile in 2019, in which India’s Muslims were referred to as a “degenerate community”. Das made her apologies on an internal platform used by Facebook employees, reported Buzzfeed News on Monday.

Das is currently at the centre of a controversy, after the Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that she had recommended against Facebook taking down hateful content made by BJP members and other “Hindu nationalist individuals”, as such an action might damage the company’s business prospects in India. One of the leaders Das had reportedly shielded was T Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana who had called for Rohingya Muslim immigrants to be shot and called Indian Muslims “traitors”.

Not my intent to denigrate Islam, says Das

Das was apologising for a post she had shared on her Facebook profile in 2019. The post was written by a former police officer, in which he called Indian’s Muslims a “degenerate community” to whom “nothing except purity and religion and implementation of Shariah matter”.

Das, in her apology, said that it wasn’t her intent to denigrate Islam, but to reflect her “deep belief in belief in celebrating feminism and civic participation”. Das added that she has deleted the post after hearing “perspectives” she had heard over the past days about how the post was received. “I genuinely regret any hurt it may have caused, including to my Muslim colleagues in the company,” she said. Das did not comment directly on the Wall Street Journal report.

Facebook employees push back, call for structural changes

According to the Buzzfeed News report, some Muslim employees of Facebook called for a structural changes within the company. One employee, while thanking Das for her apology, asked that Hindu supremacist organisations such as Bajrang Dal be designated as “dangerous” so that they could be kicked off Facebook platforms. He called for an an “honest reflection” of hate-speech and Islamophobia on Facebook.

Last week, Reuters reported that Facebook employees had written an open letter to  Facebook India leadership, asking for the company to denounce “anti-Muslim” bigotry and ensure its policies are enforced consistently. They also called for diverse representation within Facebook’s policy team in India.

A few days later, Wall Street Journal reported that members of “Muslim@”, an internal group at Facebook, which has employees from the USA, India and Middle Eastern countries, wrote a letter asking the company to review its policy enforcement process and make it less susceptible to political influence.

Facebook reps summoned by IT Standing Committee

The allegations against Facebook India leadership made in the WSJ report have attracted considerable political attention. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, has summoned Facebook representatives for a hearing on Thursday.

Earlier, opposition parties such as Congress and Trinamool Congress had spoken out against Facebook. The Congress party called for the creation of a Joint Parliamentary Committee to probe the allegations.

The Congress party has also written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking for the company to probe its Indian leadership and make the subsequent report public.

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, who is also a member of the IT Standing Committee, asked if Facebook senior management condoned the actions of the company’s India leadership. She accused Facebook of following different standards in the USA and elsewhere when it came to policing hate-speech.

Company’s India head claims Facebook is non-partisan

Last week, in response to the allegations against the company, its India head Ajit Mohan issued a statement, in which he said Facebook was “open, transparent and non-partisan”. Mohan’s statement was published on Facebook India’s own page instead of the platform’s newsroom site, where such statements are usually published. Also, Mohan did not announce any investigation into the allegations. (Read more)

Read more:

  1. Facebook accused of selective enforcement of hate-speech rules, opposition calls for JPC
  2. Facebook India leadership facing questions from employees: Report
  3. “Won’t shy away from tough cases”: Facebook Oversight Board in response to questions about platform’s bias