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No reason to remove Bajrang Dal from Facebook, Ajit Mohan tells IT standing committee: Report

Ajit Mohan, head of Facebook India, told a Parliamentary panel that the company has no reason to act against or take down content from Bajrang Dal, the right wing organisation with close ties to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Mohan deposed before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology on Wednesday, where he said Facebook’s fact-checking team did not find any content from Bajrang Dal that necessitated a ban, reported PTI.

The Committee, headed by Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor, was questioning Mohan about a recent Wall Street Journal article, which reported that Facebook was wary of removing Bajrang Dal off of its platform for fear that such an action will endanger the company’s staff and its business interests in India. Facebook’s security team had reportedly issued internal warnings about the risk of cracking down on the Bajrang Dal and two other Hindu nationalist groups — Sanatan Sanstha and Sri Ram Sena. A Facebook spokesperson essentially confirmed the security warnings to the Journal, adding that they were “part of the standard process”.

Committee member and Congress MP Karti P. Chidambaram questioned Mohan about the Journal report, to which Mohan said that Facebook’s fact-checking team had so far not found anything in Banjrang Dal’s content that is violative of its policies. It is interesting to note that Mohan’s declaration comes just a week after a Facebook spokesperson declined to answer the Journal’s query on whether the group qualified as being dangerous. In fact, the review of the organisation has been reportedly been “blocked” in Facebook’s internal project management system, and it was recommended that the group should not be banned due to complexities arising from its political affiliations.

Facebook’s content moderation and policy team has been in the news in India at least since August, when the Journal had first reported in August that the social media company was not taking action on hate speech posted by BJP leaders in order to avoid damaging the company’s business interests in India. Facebook India’s policy team, then headed by Ankhi Das, had reportedly shielded leaders including T. Raja Singh, a BJP Member of Legislative Assembly (MLA) from Telangana, who had called for the deaths of Rohingya Muslims. A few weeks later, TIME reported that Facebook has shielded Shiladitya Dev, a BJP MLA from Assam, by not removing his hate posts.

The IT Committee has since questioned Mohan and several other witnesses on these allegations. Simultaneously, the Delhi state Assembly has held multiple hearings to explore Facebook’s possible role in the spread of disinformation during the Delhi riots that transpired in February this year. Mohan had famously refused to appear before the Committee, claiming that the Delhi Assembly had no authority to hear on online platform. Mohan then approached the Supreme Court to get the summons cancelled, where the case is ongoing.

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