A top Facebook executive in India has apologized to Muslims in the company for sharing a post on her Facebook page that called India’s Muslims a “degenerate community” for whom “nothing except purity of religion and implementation of Shariah matter.”
“Dear friends – The intent of my personal Facebook post was not to denigrate Islam,” Ankhi Das, Facebook’s policy director for India and South and Central Asia, wrote in an internal message to employees obtained by BuzzFeed News. “It was to reflect my deep belief in celebrating feminism and civic participation. I value all perspectives I have heard over the past days about how the post was received and as a result I have deleted the post. I genuinely regret any hurt it may have caused, including to my Muslim colleagues in the company.”
The post she shared in late 2019 was written by a former Indian police officer in response to protests against a discriminatory citizenship law that fast-tracks Indian citizenship for South Asian immigrants belonging to most major religions except Islam.
However, Das did not comment directly on a Wall Street Journal story earlier this month that reported that she had shielded T. Raja Singh, a member of India’s ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, and at least three other Hindu nationalists, from punishment for violating Facebook’s hate speech rules, telling staffers that doing so would be bad for Facebook’s business in India. Singh, a BJP politician from the Indian state of Telangana, is known for anti-Muslim hate speech. In posts on Facebook, he reportedly called for Muslims to be slaughtered, for Rohingya Muslim immigrants to be shot, and mosques to be razed.
In comments on Das’s post, some Muslim Facebook employees pushed back and called for Facebook to do better.
“Thank you for acknowledging that the post was hurtful to the Muslim community. It is a first step in the right direction,” one person said. “As a company, we now need to do an honest reflection of hate speech and Islamophobia against Muslims on our platform. In a market where public figures like T. Raja Singh engage in blatant hate speech, as well as incites [sic] violence, against the Muslim community, we need to do more to protect the vulnerable.” The person also demanded that Facebook designate the Hindu supremacist organization Bajrang Dal, and others like it, as “dangerous,” which can lead to organizations and individuals being kicked off Facebook platforms.
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“[As] a company we need to examine what transpired in India more closely not to lay blame but to reform our processes,” said another Muslim Facebook employee. “Laying blame doesn’t do anything, making structural changes does and I feel we owe it to ourselves, our colleagues, our company, our users, and the world to do so as this will help us bring the world closer together and build better communities.”
The comments echoed sentiments expressed in a letter sent to Facebook’s leadership last week from members of an internal Facebook board for Muslim employees. The letter, first reported by Reuters, called on Facebook to revamp its structure to combine the teams responsible for content policy and lobbying the government, include Muslim staffers in its policy team in India, and designate Hindu extremist organizations as dangerous organizations under the company’s hate speech rules.
Facebook did not respond to BuzzFeed News’ request for comment.
The Journal story about one of Facebook’s most influential executives, who has been with the company since 2011, set off a political firestorm in India. On Tuesday, a committee with members from both the BJP and the New Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party will question Das on Facebook’s role in riots in New Delhi in February where two-thirds of the more than 50 people killed by Hindu mobs were identified as Muslim. An Indian parliamentary panel will also question Facebook executives about the company’s speech regulation policies in India on Sept. 2.
Hours after the report was published, Das received abuse and death threats on her Facebook and Instagram accounts, as well as on Twitter. In a police complaint, Das named six Facebook and Twitter accounts, including one belonging to a journalist, and asked police to investigate them and provide her with protection at her home.