In India, Facebook fears crackdown on hate groups, may backfire on its staff – tech2.org

In India, Facebook fears crackdown on hate groups, may backfire on its staff


Dozens of religious extremists barged into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was a Hindu temple. The group set up a Hindu statue in protest, and a clergyman says he was punched in the head by the attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as the Bajrang Dal claimed to have viewed about 250,000 times on Facebook in a video. The social-media company’s security team concluded earlier this year that the Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and potentially qualified as a “dangerous organization” that people familiar with the matter Should be banned from the platform accordingly.

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The group said in a report by its security team on the removal of the group following warnings that tightening the Bajrang Dal could threaten both the company’s business prospects and its employees in India, people said. Apart from endangering India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal could lead to physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

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Such conflicting concerns underscore Facebook’s struggles facing hate speeches that exist in a vast sea of ​​content posted on its platform around the world. Calculus in India is particularly complex, with Facebook being the largest market by users. Facebook has staff on the ground, which recently invested $ 5.7 billion in a new retail venture and negotiates with a government whose politicians have connections to Hindu nationalist groups.

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said, “We apply the policy of our dangerous individuals and organizations globally without political status or affiliation to the party, to determine what institutions to impose careful, rigorous and multidimensional sanctions for the company.” Calling the process of. “

Mr Stone said the security team’s warning that banning the Bajrang Dal could endanger both Facebook’s interests and employees was “a matter of discussion as part of the standard process.” He declined to say whether Facebook ultimately determined that the group was not eligible to be dangerous.

Followers of the Bajrang Dal, considered a militant religious organization by the US Central Intelligence Agency, have been indicted for hate crimes and religiously motivated murders, and some Facebook communities dedicate images of people dedicated to their alleged crimes For beating or beating. Hindu Religion. According to data from Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle, this year saw more than 5.5 million interactions from a handful of groups and pages dedicated to the Bajrang Dal.

Facebook policy does not allow groups that participate in violence and have a presence on their platform.

A Bajrang Dal spokesperson said that its members do not participate in illegal activities and have no confrontation with other religious groups.

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Facebook’s security team issued a warning about the risk of deporting two other right-wing Hindu nationalist groups active on the platform: Sanatan Sanstha and Shri Ram Sena, according to people familiar with the matter. A spokesperson for Sanatan Sanstha said the group is not dangerous and does not engage in hate speech on Facebook. The representative of Shri Ram Sena did not respond to requests for comment.

Facebook’s human rights staff has internally named India as a “Tier One” country, meaning it is at the highest risk of social violence and therefore to protect vulnerable populations, according to people familiar with the case Increased efforts are required by the company. It ranks it alongside Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. India’s Facebook staff designations have not been previously stated.

In many countries where Facebook is available, the company does not have employees. But it has a significant presence in India with five offices including New Delhi and Mumbai. Those facilities and their people have been zeroed in by the company’s security team as potential threats of retaliation for the extremists.

Hindus constitute over 75% of the population in India, while Muslims are around 14% and Christians 2%.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India, Ankushi Das, opposed efforts to enforce abusive language rules for some Hindu nationalist politicians and groups. The Bajrang Dal was among those organizations that were internally flagged for promoting or participating in violence.

Ms Das left Facebook in October, saying in an internal post that she was moving to pursue her interest in public service. Ms Das did not respond to requests for comment.

Anki Das recently quit her job as Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India.


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A group of Facebook employees posted in an internal letter and on Facebook discussion groups that the Bajrang Dal’s presence in other organizations casts doubt on the company’s commitment to deal with hate speech in India.

The Bajrang Dal has more than 2,000 offices across India, and some of its members have committed violence against Christians, Muslims and secularists. Such cases include killing an Australian missionary and his two sons, massacring Muslim women and children and orchestrating Hindu-Muslim riots.

The group is a militant youth wing of a group associated with the Hindu nationalist Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh organization, for which Prime Minister Narendra Modi worked for decades before his landslide election victory in 2014. A Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh spokesperson referred questions for the Bajrang Dal. . A spokesman for the Prime Minister’s Office did not respond to a request for comment.

On Facebook, the group’s review was listed as “blocked” for most of the year in its internal project management system, a label that usually means work was stopped, people familiar with the matter said . A note from an employee in Facebook’s internal work management system, described by people seen by the journal, recommended that the ban be “not due to complications” arising from the political affiliation of the Bajrang Dal.


‘The Bajrang Dal has a violent history, and the link between that group and the content associated with offline violence is undeniable.’


– Diya Kayali, Sakshi

Facebook’s Mr Stone said the Dublin-based employee’s comments did not reflect the views of relevant teams and were carried out outside the formal hazardous-organizations review process. He stated that labeling the review as “blocked” did not mean that the topic was off-limits, but instead that actions were not being actively pursued in the task.

“The Bajrang Dal has a violent history, and the connection between the content and offline violence associated with that group is undisputed,” said Di Kayali of Sakshi, a part of the coalition of human rights groups that are talking to Facebook employees in religious Violence. If Facebook “does not have both offices in India and can go back to organizations that are causing real world violence, then there should be a conversation about the implications of that.”

The video of the Pentecostal Church, which was under construction, was posted on Facebook by Jeet Vasistha, who stated in an interview that he is a district president for the Bajrang Dal. Filmed shortly after the intrusion, it showed several men standing in front of a red monkey, the Hindu god Hanuman’s idol and marching in the surrounding neighborhood with the “Bajrang Dal”.

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21-year-old Mr. Vashistha said in the video, “I and other Hindu brothers came here and forcefully re-established the temple, which garnered thousands of likes and comments.” “Break those dogs,” one commenter wrote. “Beat them, brother,” the other wrote.

Mr. Vasistha denied that representatives of any of the churches had been attacked. “Our organization only works for the service and safety of Hindu society,” he said.

Facebook took the video after journal questions about it.

Pastor Varun Malik said that he was punched in the head by one of the invaders. “I was really scared,” he said. Church officials said they reported the incident to the police but no action was taken against the men.

Minakshi Singh, general secretary of Unity in Christ, a group of churches that includes Pentecostal churches, accused Facebook of “spreading poison”.

“They are inflammatory that they are not taking material from the service,” she said. “We are not safe in India.”

Write Jeff Horwitz at [email protected] and Newley Purnell at [email protected]

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