Press release: Major Human Rights and Internet Watchdog Organizations Sign On to Demands for #AuditFBIndia As Pressure Builds

9 September 2020

Contact:

Dia Kayyali, dia@witness.org,

Heidi Beirich, heidi@globalextremism.org

Global and national groups call on Mark Zuckerberg to hold Facebook India accountable

In early August, the Wall Street Journal published an exposé of Facebook India, with evidence that Ankhi Das, the head of Public Policy at Facebook, India, South and Central exhibited political bias by suspending the community guidelines when it came to genocidal hate speech. The article has been followed by myriad press reports in the Wall Street Journal, Reuters, TIME Magazine, and more, detailing bias and failure to address dangerous content at the Facebook India office. This week, a wide range of civil society organizations from around the world, including WITNESS, Free Press, Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, Media Justice,  Southern Poverty Law Center, and the Islamic Women’s Council of New Zealand have signed an open letter calling on Mark Zuckerberg to work with civil society to address dangerous content on Facebook, ensure that a thorough audit of Facebook India takes place, and place Ankhi Das on administrative leave while the audit is being conducted. 

The timeline of Facebook’s complicity in genocide goes back to 2013, where hate speech on the platform fuelled the Muzzafarnagar riots. It has continued unabated. In 2020,  content like #Coronajihad has spread as quickly as COVID itself, and has led to real world violence against many. Facebook itself admitted that it was used to incite genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar. An Indian parliamentary panel on information technology questioned Facebook on September 2 and will do so again, following demands made by ex-civil servants and Facebook India employees. But Facebook shouldn’t wait to be forced to take action. It should publicly state what steps it is taking to address its tragic failures in India. 

Here’s what civil society is saying:

Anjum Raman, project Lead for Inclusive Aotearoa Collective (New Zealand) and member of the Global Internet Forum to Counter Terrorism Independent Advisory Committee, said:

The activities and actions of Facebook staff in India show the danger of political parties and tech companies colluding to undermine the democratic process.  It shows the result of not having independent, transparent regulatory systems in place to oversee the activities of companies which have significant impact on the wellbeing and safety of millions of people.  We have already seen evidence of that harm across the world, whether in Myanmar, India, or New Zealand.  The international community needs to come together to ensure urgent action in regulating the behaviour and activities of these companies.

Dia Kayyali, Program Manager, tech + advocacy at WITNESS, said:

Facebook has been warned about the offline violence enabled by its platform in places like India. From the United Nations Special Adviser on the Prevention of Genocide to civil society organizations, the alarm has been raised. So why is dangerous Islamophobic content that is directly linked to real world harm being allowed to persist? Even before the Wall Street Journal article, it seemed to many of us in the global community that it’s about profit in an important market- but Facebook’s business model can’t be reliant on ignoring warning signs of genocide.. Facebook must take real action now, not just apologize or even get rid of one or two executives. This is your chance, Facebook. Conduct the most thorough investigation you’ve done yet. Make the results as public as possible. And work with civil society to stem the flow of the bloody, harmful content on your platform. 

Heidi Beirich, Ph.D., EVP  at the Global Project Against Hate and Extremism, said:

It’s high time Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook take anti-Muslim hatred seriously and change how its policies are applied in Asia and across the world. The scandal in the Indian office, where anti-Muslim and other forms of hatred were allowed to stay online due to religious and political bias, is appalling and the leadership in that office complicit. Hatred fomented on Facebook has led to violence and the most terrifying crime, genocide, against Muslims and other marginalized populations across the region, most notably in Myanmar. Anti-Muslim content is metastasizing across the platform as Facebook’s own civil rights audit proved. Facebook must put an end to this now.

Sana Din from Indian American Muslim Council said:

 Facebook allowed incendiary Islamophobic content even after they were informed that it was leading to genocidal violence.  From Muzzafnagar to Delhi, Indian Muslims and millions of other caste oppressed minorities cannot wait for change.  Facebook needs to act now. They  cannot evade their direct role in supporting genocidal hate speech at Facebook India and the only remedy to this harm is an Audit of caste and religious bias. 

Steven Renderos, executive director of MediaJustice said: 

As a global company with over 3 billion followers, Facebook has the unprecedented power of affecting users both on and off their platform. Counter to Mark Zuckerberg’s public aspirations of creating an inclusive platform, Facebook has become the tool of choice around the world to escalate violence around race, caste, and religion. As recent history in Myanmar has taught us, the consequences of not preventing hate speech from going viral on their platform translate into actual violence and genocide for some. This is not merely about a company struggling to address hateful activities at scale, this is a result of people Facebook has entrusted to represent its interest around the world. Nowhere is this more true than with Ankhi Das and Facebook India.

You can read the letter here.



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