Facebook India Policy head Ankhi Das resigns amid rising criticism

In the wake of exposes into Ankhi Das and Facebook ties with fascist leaders and governments have put Facebook in a spot.

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Since the ties of Facebook India policy head, Ankhi Das with BJP has come to light, there has been pressure from various civil society organisations to investigate facebook’s role in riots. Ankhi Das has so far not responded to any of the criticisms on her. This resignation can be seen as a result of the escalating pressure from all quarters.

In a statement, Facebook said Das was leaving the company to pursue 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 9 years,” said Ajit Mohan, Facebook’s managing director for India. “She has been a part of my leadership team over the last 2 years, a role in which she has made enormous contributions. We are grateful for her service and wish her the very best for the future.”

The issue of Facebook’s bias towards the BJP has been raised on multiple occasions, including by Derek O’Brien in Parliament. Especially critiqued has been the role of Facebook and Whatsapp in spreading fake news and hate speech that has led to multiple instances of violence.

In August 2020, Wall Street Journal report showed that Ankhi Das had protected at least three BJP politicians from hate speech community guidelines for their Facebook posts, which included incitement of violence and derogatory posts about Muslims. Das argued that punishing members of Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country. After that, her ties to the BJP were explored, revealing that her sister is a long-time member of RSS-affiliated organizations, and that Ankhi Das had led a partnership between Facebook and the Election Commission.

In September, a coalition of human rights groups sent an open letter calling for Das’ resignation in response to the growing threat of violence. “Facebook should not be complicit in more offline violence, much less another genocide, but the pattern of inaction displayed by the company is reckless to the point of complicity,” the letter read. “[We] write to urge you to take decisive action to address Facebook India’s bias and failure to address dangerous content in India.” The groups also called for Facebook’s internal review of the issue to be conducted out of the company’s California offices, rather than in India where Das might have more influence.

Ankhi Das, who joined Facebook in 2011, has been referred to as ‘Modi’s granddaughter’ by Facebook employees. In 2017, she launched a partnership between Facebook and the Election Commission for a ‘Voter Awareness’ Campaign’. Data breaches by Facebook that were acknowledged by the Election Commission in 2018, were ignored in favour of continuing the partnership. In February 2019, when an EC panel recommended that political advertisements on social media be pre-approved by the EC and a PIL regarding the same was filed in the Bombay HC, Facebook and Google were asked to submit affidavits regarding the same. While Google agreed to only post pre-approved advertisements, Facebook India did not agree with the proposal.

In the wake of such exposes into Ankhi Das and Facebook ties with fascist leaders and governments have put Facebook in a spot. Facebook India has struggled to respond to the growing threat of hate speech against Muslims, often preceding horrific acts of mob violence. Facebook had been slow to take action against many of the Hindu nationalist groups responsible for the violence, leading to concerns that the company was repeating the mistakes that preceded similar violence in Myanmar and Sri Lanka.

Das also courted criticism in her personal behavior, aligning herself with the ruling BJP party and openly confronting critics. In August, she filed a criminal complaint against a string of critics, alleging that their posts constituted criminal intimidation. The complaint was extreme enough to draw criticism from the international Committee to Protect Journalists, which saw the charges as a potential threat to the free press.

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