“We call on you to ensure that the ongoing human rights audit of Facebook India reported by Time Magazine is overseen by high level staff in your Menlo Park office, increase engagement with human rights and grassroots organizations in conducting the audit and devising solutions to the continuing problem of dangerous content on your platform, and put head of public policy Ankhi Das on leave pending completion of the audit. The need to act is urgent – lives are at stake,” stated the letter.
Following the WSJ report which alleged Ankhi Das, Facebook’s public policy director for India, South and Central Asia opposed applying hate speech rules to posts by BJP leader T Raja Singh and three other BJP leaders and groups flagged internally for promoting violence, the TIME magazine reported that Facebook, in an attempt to evaluate its role in spreading hate speech and incitements to violence, has commissioned an independent report on its impact on human rights in India. As per TIME, work on the India audit began before WSJ came out with its report.
TIME stated the audit is being conducted by the US law firm Foley Hoag and will include interviews with senior Facebook staff and members of civil society in India.
In the letter, dated September 9, the NGOs stated the link between content on Facebook and offline violence in India is ‘no secret’ but articles from WSJ revealed disturbing details about the problem.
The letter stated mass riots in India spurred on by content posted on Facebook have been occurring for at least seven years.
“A mislabeled video on social media was instrumental in stoking the horrific 2013 Muzaffarnagar riots in which 62 people were killed. A BJP politician was even arrested for sharing the video,” the NGOs stated in the letter.
” This should have been enough to prompt Mr. Zuckerberg and Facebook to take a step back from operations and conduct a human rights audit to ensure Facebook had the necessary corporate competencies and had taken human rights into account. Despite all this, the company decided to expand in India without hesitation,” they added.
The NGOs have stated Facebook must take immediate steps to ensure the independence and thoroughness of the ongoing human rights audit of its India operations, encompassing caste, religious bias, and elections operations. The audit must be removed entirely from the influence of the India office and the company should immediately place Das on a leave of absence, due to the reports of her role in Facebook’s ‘continued failure’ to enforce its policies in India.
South Asians Building Accountability & Healing (SABAH), Hope not Hate, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Muslim Advocates and Free Press are the other NGOs mentioned in the letter.