Facebook’s India policy chief quits after hate speech allegations

Reports earlier this year said Ankhi Das had refused to take down anti-Muslim posts on the social media platform, tirggering a political storm.

Ankhi Das, Facebook''s Public Policy Director for India
Ankhi Das seen on her Facebook page in this illustration picture taken on August 19, 2020 [File: Adnan Abidi/Reuters]

Facebook’s top India public policy executive, who was at the centre of a controversy over her alleged failure to address hate speech on the platform, has quit, the social media giant said on Tuesday.

The network sparked a political storm in India after the Wall Street Journal newspaper (WSJ) reported in August that policy chief Ankhi Das refused to take down anti-Muslim posts by a Hindu nationalist legislator as it could damage the firm’s business interests.

The legislator from the southern Telangana state, T Raja Singh, belongs to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

In his Facebook posts, Singh demanded that Rohingya refugees be shot, called India’s Muslims traitors and threatened to demolish mosques.

Facebook blocked him following the publication of the WSJ report, which had also detailed other BJP politicians and Hindu nationalist groups posting anti-Muslim hate speech.

India is the biggest market for the United States-based firm, with more than 300 million users. Its messaging application, WhatsApp, has 400 million users in the world’s second-most populous nation.

However, the social media firm is under pressure worldwide over the policing of hate speech.

An Indian parliamentary committee on information technology is also probing the allegations.

Ajit Mohan, Facebook India’s managing director, said Das was leaving Facebook “to pursue her interest in public service”.

“Ankhi was one of our earliest employees in India and played an instrumental role in the growth of the company and its services over the last nine years,” Mohan said in a statement.

Mohan in September rejected allegations the Silicon Valley firm failed to act on hate speech over business concerns, telling the Times of India newspaper that the company was doing everything possible to “keep all kinds of harm away from the platform”.

He said Das was not responsible for any decisions governing hate speech and that the public policy team was separate from the content policy team that enforces such decisions.

More than 40 rights groups worldwide had written a letter to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg in September, demanding that Das be sidelined, pending the outcome of a civil rights audit.

Indian media reports said Das quit Facebook days after she was questioned by Indian parliamentarians on data privacy.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies