Much ado about nothing: WSJ’s Hinduphobic twist

Narendra Modi with 45 million and BJP with 16 million have largest number of followers on Facebook. India is biggest market for Facebook and WhatsApp. Even for Chinese, India used to be the biggest market. Why foreign media is so intolerant with this fact that India is becoming the most lucrative destination for every big or small MNCs.

Who decides what constitutes hate speech in India? Is it based on some algorithm or based on perceptions of certain people. Are there guidelines to underline what’s hate speech in India?

Rashmi Singh, Ankhi Das’ twin sister

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) wrote an article, titled “Facebook hate speech rules collide with Indian politics”. Soon Congress took it up with zero facts. WSJ very conveniently questions quotes of BJP politician T. Raja Singh from Hyderabad but maintains absolute silence on AIMIM chief Assaduddin Owaisi and his brother Akbaruddin Owaisi who hails from the same city, Hyderabad. WSJ finds no correlation between an action and reaction theory which is nothing but part of modern politics. 

WSJ conveniently failed to mention how Owaisi brothers are serial offenders when it comes to abusing Hindus and Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the hate speeches delivered through public platforms and Facebook (verified pages) for that matter.

Owaisi brothers not only had violated the Facebook’s hate-speech rules but qualified as dangerous, a designation that takes into account a person’s off-platform activities.

Given India’s history of communal violence and religious tensions, WSJ should have argued that this rhetoric pushed by Owaisi brothers could lead to real-world violence, and they should be permanently banned from the company’s platforms world-wide.

Yet Assaduddin Owaisi and Akbaruddin Owaisi, chief of AIMIM, member of Indian Parliament and MLA in Assembly through his verified accounts continue to operate on Facebook and Instagram, where they have hundreds of thousands of followers. 

WSJ accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi from a Hindu nationalist party (BJP). They may have forgotten that 55% Indian people voted for BJP in 2019 general election and PM Modi continuously maintains his “Sabka Sath, Sabka Vikas and Sabka Viswas” (Development for all) model. WSJ very conveniently accused PM Modi and BJP being the leader of only Hindus. WSJ should have researched a bit how PM Modi is widely considered a global leader acknowledged by Time magazine.

Now WSJ jumps to the Facebook’s top public-policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das. According to WSJ, Das opposed applying the hate-speech rules to Raja Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals (Who are these Hindu Nationalists, nobody knows). Entire accusations by WSJ are based on unidentified source within Facebook.

In one paragraph, according to WSJ, Das is the top policy executive and in next paragraph Das becomes a lobbyists whose job is to liaison with Indian government on Facebook’s behalf. So, according to WSJ, we can safely assume that whichever big or small company operating in India has to protect itself from Indian government as Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in India if they don’t oblige.

WSJ Hinduphobia appears in next paragraph where this article talks about challenges faced by Facebook in policing hate speech across the enormous volume of content posted to its platforms world-wide. Here they don’t find any derogatory or inflammatory or blasphemous posts by Muslims across the world. All WSJ could find that all hate-speeches are originated and propagated by Hindu nationalists in India. 

Again in one paragraph WSJ quotes how Facebook polices content has emerged as a major issue in the US, where the company faces regular accusations of political bias. Some high-profile advertisers recently boycotted the platform over its handling of hateful content. Facebook says it doesn’t tolerate efforts to use its platforms to instigate violence anywhere in the world. 

Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg himself has been trying to reassure employees and advertisers in the US that the company won’t let its platform be used to incite violence or interfere with the democratic process. WSJ quotes M. Zuckerberg, “People should be able to see what politicians say” on Facebook, Zuckerberg said in May when asked about President Trump’s online activity, but “there are lines, and we will enforce them.”

In another paragraph, if one has to take WSJ on face value, it seems Das is over and above Mark Zuckerberg as she can intervene and bypass all the guidelines set by Facebook for Raja Singh as a part of a broader pattern of favoritism by Facebook toward Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners.

A Facebook spokesman, Andy Stone, acknowledged that Facebook is still considering whether a ban on Raja Singh is warranted or not then where is the question of Das’s intervention on behalf of BJP? Neither Das nor Singh nor a spokesman for his political party, the BJP, responded to the allegations posed by WSJ. Still it was necessary to write an article based on zero facts or counter argument or clarifications. 

Why should PMO India have to respond to this article?

India is a vital market for Facebook, which isn’t allowed to operate in China, the only other nation with more than one billion people. India has more Facebook and WhatsApp users than any other country, and Facebook has chosen it as the market in which to introduce payments, encryption and initiatives to tie its products together in new ways that Zuckerberg has said will occupy Facebook for the next decade. In April, Facebook said it would spend $5.7 billion on a new partnership with an Indian telecom operator to expand operations in the country—its biggest foreign investment.

India is today a favorite business destination for every big company across the world. At the same time, the Indian Government denied Facebook’s proposal to provide a free, Facebook-centric telecommunications service called “Free Basics” in 2016 on the grounds that it violated net neutrality, the concept that all traffic on the internet should be treated equally. The company’s plans to launch WhatsApp payments nationwide have been stalled for two years as it awaits government approvals. 

If Facebook is run on the wishes of Das then Facebook should have had both the plans in place. That’s the common sense WSJ should have applied before accusations on a senior Facebook executive.

Das joined Facebook in 2011, way before Modi was in power as public-policy head for India, South and Central Asia. She oversees a team that decides what content is allowed on the platform.

When you dig deeper into WSJ article, you will realise that it was not at all about Ankhi Das. WSJ inadvertently or purposefully mixed up with the former JNU President and former Chairman of WOSY (World Organization for Students & Youth), a wing of #ABVP, Rashmi Das (Singh), who’s a twin sister of Ankhi Das. WSJ quotes multiple statements of Rashmi Das in the name of Ankhi Das. 

Few absurd arguments that Ms. Rashmi Singh could have influenced the Facebook’s policies through Ms. Ankhi Das is laughable and it should be rejected outrightly. Are we saying that if someone chooses Public life then his/ her family members have to sacrifice Global positions or lucrative jobs for justification of “conflict of interest”. One can question the integrity of an executive based on unfair assumptions. 

First and foremost Ankhi Das is associated with Trinamool Congress (TMC) is a public fact. Now, WSJ accuses BJP to collide with TMC in Bengal? Second, why they have only concentrated on Das (they get mixed up with Das and Singh) only and why not any mention about Congress or UPA or Ajit Mohan, Facebook India Head used to work with Planning commission under UPA government, Siddharth Mazumdar, Public Policy head worked with Ahmed Patel and Prashant Kishore (PK) and Manish Khanduri, former Facebook head of news partnership fought 2019 election on Congress ticket.