Facebook Bans Ruling Party Indian Lawmaker for Hate Speech

SAN JOSE, CALIFORNIA - APRIL 30: The Facebook logo is displayed during the F8 Facebook Developers conference on April 30, 2019 in San Jose, California. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg delivered the opening keynote to the FB Developer conference that runs through May 1. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)
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Facebook banned T. Raja Singh, a politician from India’s ruling BJP party, on Thursday for violating the platform’s rules against hate speech. Singh was banned from Instagram as well.

His content has been controversial for some time, but until now Facebook has been reluctant to take action against him, fearing retaliation from BJP officials that could damage the company’s business interests in its largest worldwide market.

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) noted there is nothing hypothetical about Facebook’s position; Ankhi Das, head of Facebook public policy in India, has written to staffers who wanted to ban Singh as a “dangerous individual” to explain that taking action against him would jeopardize Facebook’s operations. 

Some of those Facebook staffers hit back at Das, especially Muslim employees who accused her of having a conflict of interest, since she “made postings to an internal Facebook group over several years detailing her support for the BJP and disparaging its main rival.”

BJP officials have accused Facebook of holding political bias against them, the technology committee of the Indian parliament is currently holding hearings on preventing “misuse of social/online news media platforms,” and India just announced a third wave of bans against Chinese smartphone apps, so Facebook has reasons to worry about drawing unfavorable government attention to itself.

“On Tuesday, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, accusing the social media platform’s employees of supporting people from a political predisposition that lost successive elections, and ‘abusing’ the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers,” the Indian Express reported.

Facebook was summoned on Wednesday to a session of the Indian parliament’s Standing Committee on Information Technology to testify on the abuse of social media platforms. The summons itself promptly became a topic of political controversy, as a BJP committee member complained the summons was issued without properly consulting the entire committee. 

Singh, a strident Hindu nationalist, has multiple Facebook accounts and over 300,000 followers. All of his accounts appear to have been blocked on Thursday.

“In Facebook posts and public appearances, Mr. Singh, a member of [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi’s BJP, has said Rohingya Muslim immigrants should be shot, called Muslims traitors and threatened to destroy mosques,” the WSJ observed.

Singh, who is the only BJP representative from his southern state of Telangana, claimed that he is the victim of political persecution and dirty tricks. He claimed in August that his official Facebook page was “hacked and blocked” in 2018 and he never received a response to the police complaint he filed.

“Somebody is deliberately trying to project me as a dangerous person all over the world. A huge conspiracy has been hatched against me. Many pages and IDs are being run on my name on social media platforms without my consent,” he said at the time.

On Thursday, Singh claimed he has not used Facebook in over a year. He suggested any pages currently posting content under his name could be run by his followers. He implied the most objectionable content could have been written in an effort to embarrass BJP.

“I will write to Facebook to open my official account. I will follow all rules and regulations to use it. I should be given the right to use Facebook account and I will seek their permission,” Singh said.

Singh posted a separate video message hectoring Facebook for not taking action against opposition politicians who posted “false” statements against BJP and demanded bans for several other parties and officials.

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