Facebook executive Ankhi Das has resigned. The statement by Facebook India’s managing director Ajit Mohan that, “she has decided to step down from her role to pursue her interest in public service,” has no takers. At least at the moment. Her resignation comes weeks after both Facebook and she herself faced questions (and backlash) over the moderation of political content on Facebook pages and days after Parliamentary Panel questioning.
Facebook currently has over 300 million users in the country, thus making India its biggest market. Is it any wonder that the social media giant has been called out, allegedly for its deep-rooted and lucrative links with India’s ruling party and the government?
It was on April 1, 2019, that Facebook announced having taken down 702 pages and accounts from India. It was claimed at the time that the pages were linked to Indian National Congress (INC) and IT firm Silver Touch and had posted content pertaining to then upcoming Lok Sabha elections. Several investigative reports, after the ones by The Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine, in August, looked into the moderation of content by Facebook (and its messaging service WhatsApp).
Facebook’s impartial moderation of content
Facebook, as is expected, has vehemently insisted all along that it applies hate speech rules uniformly. But several congress leaders including Rahul Gandhi and Shashi Tharoor have cited the articles and investigative reports as evidence that social media was being misused and manipulated by the Modi government. The reports also said that Facebook blatantly refused to act when it came to hate speeches posted by BJP members, for instance, the ones by BJP’s legislator in Telangana, T. Raja Singh.
Parliamentary panel looks into Facebook’s policies
Just weeks before Das’ resignation, Facebook was called before a parliamentary panel chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor. “When I joined Facebook in 2011, internet growth in the country was woefully low and I often wondered how social and economic asymmetries will be addressed,” said Das while announcing her resignation as the India head of public policy.
“Is it time to join politics,” several over social media speculated. While some even refused to take the resignation at its face value. “Quitting might be a game. She might just act as a shadow employee,” posted another user.
Das has been in the eye of the storm ever since allegations first resurfaced about Facebook’s close connection with BJP. She has been accused of posting messages supporting BJP on a Facebook group of the company’s employees and allegedly warned against any action being taken against posts by BJP members. And how that could harm Facebook’s commercial interests in India.
According to Facebook’s Ad Library Report, there was total spending to the tune of Rs 10.32 crore between February and March 30 of last year. The report also said that ahead of the elections, there were 51,810 political ads. Need anybody guess a major chunk of the revenue and ads came from which political outfit?