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Case filed against Facebook executive at centre of hate-speech row

Raipur: A police case has been filed against Facebook’s policy chief in India, Ankhi Das, in Chhattisgarh, for allegedly hurting religious sentiments and inciting people. The executive has been at the centre of a huge controversy following a report in US publication Wall Street Journal that said Facebook deliberately ignored disruptive content from members of the ruling BJP and as well as right-wing leaders who have been “flagged internally”. Ankhi Das is said to be the executive behind the policy, WSJ reported. The report has triggered a political controversy over which the Congress and the BJP have been trading barbs for the last two days.

The complaint in Raipur was filed by a journalist, Awesh Tiwari, who has been accused of threatening Ankhi Das. The Facebook executive filed a police complaint yesterday, saying she has received threats on her life online and named five people, including him.

Besides Ankhi Das, Ram Sahu from Mungeli from Chhattisgarh and Vivek Sinha from Madhya Pradesh, were named in the First Information Report filed by the Chhattisgarh police, reported a news agency, quoting Senior Superintendent of Police Ajay Yadav.

Quoting the journalist’s complaint, the news agency reported that when he posted a remark on the WSJ article on Facebook, Sahu and Sinha jumped in to defend Ankhi Das and commented on Mr Tiwari’s post “that she (Ms Das) is a Hindu and she is talking in the interest of the faith”. Ram Sahu allegedly posted derogatory and communally sensitive photographs and also threatened him, the complaint further said.

Mr Tiwari also said he has been receiving threat messages and calls on WhatsApp after his post. He has submitted screenshots of the threat messages with the police.

Ankhi Das had filed the police complaint on Monday. In her complaint, naming five persons, she said, “I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me by the accused persons. The content, which even includes my photograph is evidently threatening to my life and body and I fear for my safety as well as that of my family members”.

Quoting current and former employees, the article said Facebook has a “broader pattern of favouritism” towards the BJP. The Indian executives, the article said, had allowed objectionable content to remain on the site despite the issue being flagged by company chief Mark Zuckerberg.

Ankhi Das, WSJ said, had claimed that punishing violations by BJP workers “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.

In a statement yesterday, Facebook said it prohibits “hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation”. The social media giant, which counts India among its largest markets globally, however, added, “We know there is more to do”.

A committee of the Delhi assembly has said it would summon officials of Facebook, especially Ankhi Das. The committee on “Peace and Harmony” will examine the social media giant’s alleged stance towards hate speeches and divisive content posted by BJP leaders.

The WSJ article has set off a fresh row between BJP and the Congress. Several Congress leaders, including Rahul Gandhi, shared the article on Sunday, alleging that it was evidence that the BJP manipulated social media. The BJP cited the three-year-old Cambridge Analytica data scandal and said the Congress should not point fingers.

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