Facebook has banned a politician from Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party for alleged hate speech after the social media platform came under scrutiny over its handling of extremist content in the country.
Raja Singh, a Bharatiya Janata party politician from Telangana state, was banned for posts that said Rohingya refugees in India should be shot and that Muslims were traitors. Mr Singh has said he is not responsible for the Facebook posts.
“We have banned Raja Singh from Facebook for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform,” said a Facebook spokesperson in an emailed statement.
Facebook is facing criticism in India, its largest market with more than 300m users, for allegedly refusing to remove incendiary posts from BJP politicians to protect its business interests in the country. Facebook denies the allegations.
On Wednesday, India’s information technology parliamentary committee grilled Facebook India head Ajit Mohan for three-and-a-half hours on the issue. “We . . . unanimously agreed to resume the discussion later,” wrote committee leader and opposition Congress politician Shashi Tharoor on Twitter after the hearing.
Mr Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has been accused of using Facebook and WhatsApp to wage divisive political battles online that often rely on fake news and encourage hatred against the minority Muslim population.
But the BJP has denied that its social media campaigns are toxic and has accused Facebook of censorship.
In a letter to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, technology minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote that, in the run-up to the 2019 general elections, there was a “concerted effort” by Facebook to delete pages and reduce the reach of people “who are supportive of the right-of-centre ideology”.
India is one of the most promising markets for Facebook and WhatsApp, which counts more than 400m users in the country and is preparing to launch its digital payments platform.
Apar Gupta, from the Internet Freedom Foundation in New Delhi, said Facebook’s record in India was “incredibly poor” and that it operated with little oversight in the country compared with the US.
“Facebook and WhatsApp engage in India with a high degree of focus given it is their largest market in terms of numbers and business potential,” said Mr Gupta. “It’s disappointing that the same amount of focus is not present towards protecting user rights and committing to its stated principles of transparency and accountability.”
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