Home / Companies / News /  Final word is not with public policy team: Facebook

Facebook India, which is facing intense scrutiny for allegedly allowing its public policy team to influence how hate-speech rules are applied, said on Tuesday that content moderation is enforced by an independent team and while other employees can offer their views, they can’t sway decisions.

“Public policy in India, while being one stakeholder who can express one point of view among many voices, but they did not have any decision-making power in this. The content policy team that is on the hook for enforcing content decisions in India is separate and independent from the public policy team," Ajit Mohan, vice-president and managing director of Facebook India, said in an interview.

The social media giant’s India unit has been facing criticism since The Wall Street Journal reported that Ankhi Das, who heads Facebook’s public policy team in India, opposed a move to remove offensive posts by politicians of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

On Tuesday, Mohan skipped summons from a Delhi Assembly committee to explain why the social media giant failed to remove hate content during the Delhi riots in February.

Mohan said there are robust internal mechanisms within the company to handle divergence of opinion on sensitive content, especially those involving politically exposed individuals, and the public policy team does not have the final word when it comes to content moderation.

“The reality is no individual—including some of those whose names have been mentioned, who are people who report to me—has that kind of unilateral decision-making power in this organization to influence choices," Mohan said. “When it involves an elected official, we are pretty conscious that the process and mechanism need to be extremely robust, because these are people who are elected in democratic systems, and if anything, our bias would be that voters and citizens should be able to listen to their point of view and make a conclusion for themselves," Mohan said.

Mohan’s latest denial of political biases comes after several media reports pointed to gross violations in content moderation standards by the social media company. The latest report by US digital media outlet BuzzFeed News, which accessed an internal Facebook memo, cites instances of “politically sophisticated" attempts to influence the Delhi elections in February. The report cited a former Facebook data scientist, Sophie Zhang, who wrote the memo on how the company has failed to act on time or with transparency in tackling attempts to undermine democratic processes around the world. The report also cited alleged influence operations by political parties in Azerbaijan and Honduras, and similar but unattributed campaigns in Ukraine, Spain, Brazil, Bolivia, and Ecuador.

On Tuesday, several Delhi MLAs accused Facebook of selective application of the website’s community standards and “actively fanning the flames" of hatred during the Delhi communal riots.

“We don’t have an exception for hate speech for elected officials," Mohan clarified. “So, we did enforce our hate speech policies, not once but many times. To be extremely clear, no exceptions, it was enforced."

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