Eleven Facebook employees have written an open letter to the company’s leadership on an internal platform, asking that the company leaders acknowledge and denounce “anti-Muslim” bigotry and ensure more policy consistency, Reuters reported.
The letter follows a recent report by the Wall Street Journal, which had said that the company’s public policy team in India, headed by Ankhi Das, had refused to take down hateful content by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) so as to avoid damage to Facebook’s commercial interests in the country. The social media giant has since attracted considerable criticism from opposition parties in the country. The Congress party on Tuesday wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking the company headquarters to investigate the leadership of its Indian arm.
The letter by the 11 employees, according to the Reuters report, demanded that Facebook’s policy team in India and elsewhere “includes diverse representation”.
“It is hard not to feel frustrated and saddened by the incidents reported … We know we’re not alone in this. Employees across the company are expressing similar sentiment,” said the letter. “The Muslim community at Facebook would like to hear from Facebook leadership on our asks.”
Reuters also reported that Facebook employees were discussing whether the company’s content policy team and government relations team should be separated.
Meanwhile, the Congress party continued its criticism of Facebook, accusing it of having a quid pro quo arrangement with the BJP. On Wednesday evening, in a Twitter post, the party said Das had “nurtured” her relations with BJP long before they came to power in 2014.
MediaNama has reached out to Facebook for a comment. We will update this post accordingly.
International journalist body defends Chhattisgarh reporter named in Das’ complaint
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) on Wednesday came out against Ankhi Das for naming Awesh Tiwari, a Chhattisgarh-based journalist, in her complaint to the Delhi police. In a statement, CPJ demanded that Das withdraw her complaint and “respect citizens’ rights to criticise her”.
CPJ’s statement comes in light of Das’ complaint to the Delhi police, made on August 16, in which she had accused Tiwari and several others of threatening her on social media accounts. Das had complained that she had received threats following the publication of the Wall Street Journal report, and listed, among others, Tiwari as an “accused”. She had attached a Facebook post made by Tiwari on August 16. Das asked for an investigation against Tiwari and others for sexual harassment, defamation and criminal intimidation.
“It is patently absurd that an executive of Facebook, which claims a commitment to freedom of the press and free expression, would file a criminal complaint against a journalist for criticising her on that very platform,” said Aliya Iftikhar, CPJ’s senior Asia researcher, in New York in the organisation’s statement. “In trying to intimidate Awesh Tiwari, Ankhi Das is merely suggesting that The Wall Street Journal story that he cited struck a sensitive nerve. She should immediately withdraw her complaint.”
Subsequently, Tiwari himself, on Monday, filed a complaint with Raipur police in Chhattisgarh, accusing Das of hurting religious sentiments. He had also named two others in the complaint, who had made threats against him.
Tiwari, speaking to MediaNama said that he had indeed received several threats on his phone since he had put up his Facebook post. In this post, he said, he had only summarised the Wall Street Journal report and had issued no threats against Das. When asked why Das chose to file a complaint specifically against him, he said, “I can only speculate but it seems [Ankhi Das] did not know I was a journalist. If she did, she perhaps wouldn’t have named me.”
Tiwari also noted that the post which Das had referred to in her complaint to Delhi police is still up, which has been confirmed by MediaNama. “It is indeed surprising that Facebook itself hasn’t flagged my post as ‘hate speech’. I have received no notices on it at all,” he said.
Tiwari also suggested that instead of filing a criminal complaint, Das could have spoken directly to the media to clear up the air about the allegations against her, “especially considering the fact that Facebook’s integrity is under questions here.”
Correction (13:15 IST, August 20, originally published at 11:54 IST, August 20): In the previous version of the article, we had reported that 11 Indian employees of Facebook had written the open letter. It is not known if any or all of the 11 employees are Indian. We regret the error.