Report says top Facebook executive in India openly backed Modi on internal company group

A report by Wall Street Journal revealed that Facebook’s policy head for the region, Ankhi Das, had said in an internal post “We lit a fire to his (Modi) social media campaign and the rest is of course history”

August 31, 2020 by Newsclick
Facebook executive Ankhi Das: Image courtesy Quint

After earlier reporting on how Facebook did not remove hateful posts made by a leader of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) against the Muslim community, The Wall Street Journal has now exposed what appears to be a clear pro-BJP bias in the company’s top brass in India.

The US-based newspaper has revealed how Ankhi Das, who heads public policy for Facebook in India, did not hesitate to show her backing of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, having earlier worked for the campaign to elect him Chief Minister of Gujarat in 2012.

Posts from Das, made on an internal company group, have now surfaced. “We lit a fire to his (Modi) social media campaign and the rest is of course history (sic),” Das reportedly wrote on the group a day prior to when results for the parliamentary elections in 2014 were announced. The BJP led by Modi came to power in that election.

Making no bones about where her affiliations lay, Das also posted about the defeat of the opposition Indian National Congress  (INC) in the polls, saying that it took thirty years of “grassroots” work to end “state socialism” in India. The posts were reportedly made between 2012 and 2014, with hundreds of Facebook employees on the group during that time.

A Facebook spokesperson told the newspaper that Das’ posts were taken out of context and were not representative of the “full scope” of the company’s efforts to help Indian political parties better use the platform.

Das, when told by a colleague that the Congress’ Facebook presence was greater than Modi, the individual, reportedly said: “Don’t diminish him by comparing him with INC. Ah well—let my bias not show!!!(sic)”

After the first WSJ report, Reuters had reported that Facebook’s employees in India had, in an open letter, demanded consistency in policy and that the platform denounce the “anti-Muslim bigotry.”

In a series of articles published in the run-up to the Lok Sabha Elections in 2019, NewsClick had reported on Facebook’s role in India’s electoral democracy, and how it had lobbied its way into a position of power. Five reports, co-authored by Cyril Sam and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta, published between November 22 and November 26, 2018, laid bare the Facebook modus operandi in India.

The first article was about the complicity of Facebook and WhatsApp in spreading disinformation and hate speech, leading to incidents of mob lynching in different parts of the country. It also elaborated on how the reach of media outlets critical of the establishment was limited. The second piece showed how Facebook came to be in the position it was in, with help from friends and supporters of PM Modi.

The third report mentioned how key individuals with BJP links helped propagate the party’s right-wing Hindu nationalist agenda on social media. The fourth looked at the Congress’ relations with Facebook and an allegation of possible conflict of interest pertaining to a senior employee of Facebook in India (Ankhi Das). The fifth and final article laid bare the crisis confronting one of the world’s biggest internet conglomerates set up just over a decade ago. A detailed list of 64 pointed questions to Facebook had elicited a predictable and fuzzy response.