Facebook faces grilling by MPs in India over anti-Muslim hate speech

Facebook faces grilling by MPs in India over anti-Muslim hate speech

Social media site denies any bias towards ruling Hindu nationalist BJP party

Facebook’s alleged political bias and its role in spreading anti-Muslim hate speech in India is to come under scrutiny when senior executives are summoned before a parliamentary committee.

The committee hearing on Wednesday follows allegations in the Wall Street Journal that the company’s top policy official in India, Ankhi Das, had prevented the removal of hate speech and anti-Muslim posts by politicians from the ruling Bharatiya Janata party (BJP) in order to maintain a good relationship with the government, a claim the company denied.

India is Facebook’s largest and most lucrative market, with 328 million users. Facebook also owns WhatsApp, which has more than 400 million users in India. The BJP, which has more than 16 million followers on its page, is Facebook’s biggest advertising spender in India, paying out 46.1m rupees (£469,478) over the past 18 months.

Pawan Khera, a spokesperson for the opposition party India National Congress, said Facebook had serious questions to answer at the parliamentary standing committee on information and technology.

“Collusion happening between a social media giant like Facebook and a party like the BJP has very serious consequences,” said Khera. “Not only have we seen the pace and spread of the BJP’s divisive agenda grow very fast on social media, but instances of hate speech have also been ignored by Facebook. We thought it was initially that the BJP were dependent on Facebook, but now we realise it’s a mutual dependence driving this.”

Facebook has multiple commercial ties with the Indian government, including partnerships with the ministry of tribal affairs, the ministry of women and the board of education.

Facebook also has a commercial partnership with the Election Commission of India (ECI). In 2018, after reported data breaches by Facebook, the ECI said it was reviewing the partnership. Five days later it said the breaches were an “aberration” and the partnership would continue.

During the Indian election in 2019, Facebook announced it had taken down 687 pages for “inauthentic behaviour” linked to the opposition Congress party. Only 15 pro-BJP pages were removed. The BJP has denied any collusion with Facebook.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”