Controversial figure Ankhi Das quits Facebook
The public policy executive was named in media reports about the social media giant’s political bias in favour of the ruling party in India.
It was only a few weeks earlier that Facebook’s South Asia public policy director Ankhi Das was at the centre of a political and media storm. A report by the Wall Street Journal had quoted Facebook India employees talking about her role in holding the company back from taking action against hate speech by some members of the BJP so as to not hurt its position with the government.
In addition to not wanting to “damage Facebook’s business prospects”, Das’ actions, or the lack of it, also reflected her own unsavoury views on minorities and her open support for the BJP. This was in direct conflict with the company’s stated objectives to be neutral, treat all hate speech uniformly and not interfere in the political process of any country.
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The news ignited fierce debate in the country with both the opposition and Facebook India’s own employees demanding answers on how exactly hate speech is being regulated on its site. The platform has over 300 million users in the country and has come to be seen as a powerful outreach tool for all political parties.
This revelation naturally incensed and worried opposition in the country which is already trying to catch up to BJP in its social media game. The Congress was quick to point out that the government was manipulating social media to its advantage and it even wrote to Mark Zuckerberg twice highlighting its concerns.
Facebook has defended Das and denied the allegations, saying it applies all rules without consideration of political parties and that Das’ own Facebook posts, taken out of context, were not inappropriate. They also don’t represent the scope of the company’s efforts in trying to get parties across the spectrum to adopt the platform, it said. They even shielded Das from appearing at a parliamentary panel hearing to which Facebook was summoned.
Das’ resignation doesn’t seem to be connected with the controversy. In her farewell message, she said she decided to step down to in order to pursue her interests in public service. One of her last duties before resigning was to appear before a parliamentary panel related to data privacy, where Facebook was told it couldn’t use personal data of citizens for “inferential” purposes in advertising or elections.