07, Apr 2021 | CJP Team
It was The Wall Street Journal’s report that exposed Facebook India’s questionable strategy related to inciteful speech. Our experience in filing regular and informed complaints to the platform for over three years now, was merely confirmed by this analysis that showed that Facebook India has been manipulating the company’s hate-speech rules to suit an extreme right-wing narrative. Now, Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has undertaken our own analysis of how and why hate speech continues to multiply on the platform, despite such posts violating the social media giant’s own guidelines on objectionable content and hate speech community standards.
Facebook defines hate speech as a direct attack on people based on what we call protected characteristics – race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, caste, sex, gender, gender identity and serious disease or disability. It further defines attack as violent or dehumanising speech, harmful stereotypes, statements of inferiority or calls for exclusion or segregation. Facebook’s Community Standards may be read here.
It further segregates hate speech into 3 tiers with a comprehensive list of offensive behaviour that amounts to hate speech. Yet, here are few instances of hate speech and repeat offenders of hate speech, that continue to post hateful content on the platform. Citizens for Justice and Peace (CJP) has made efforts to bring the same to the notice of Facebook’s complaint cell and some other authorities.
CJP is dedicated to finding and bringing to light instances of Hate Speech, so that the bigots propagating these venomous ideas can be unmasked and brought to justice. To learn more about our campaign against hate speech, please become a member. To support our initiatives, please donate now!
Hate speech and courts
The Supreme Court in Amish Devgan v Union of India and Ors 2020 SCC OnLine SC 994, elaborated on the concept of Hate Speech by identifying three elements:
Content-based: Open use of words and phrases generally considered to be offensive to a particular community and objectively offensive to the society.
Intent-based: Speaker’s message to intend only to promote hatred, violence or resentment against a particular class or group.
Harm-based/ impact-based: There is an element of harm to the victim which can be violent or such as loss of self-esteem, economic or social subordination, physical and mental stress, silencing of the victim and effective exclusion from the political arena.
With vast jurisprudence available on hate speech and its ramifications, but selective application, Facebook India takes very little responsibility in keeping a check on abuse and offensive content that can further marginalise the already marginalised and discriminated groups. CJP has tried to monitor some accounts and pages online to limit the propagation of such ideologies but the social media giant needs to certainly do more.
Indian and International law’s position on Hate Speech may be viewed here:
Ragni Tiwari alias Janki Behen, a self-proclaimed Hindutva leader who appeals to all Hindus to “kill or die” continues to have a Facebook account today. Her account was deleted for a few days which was being misused to spread hate and was full of provocative content. But a new (restricted) profile made by her seems to have appeared on Facebook.
CJP approached Facebook via complaints dated March 3, 2020 for Tiwari’s Facebook Live during the Delhi Riots in February and another one dated December 24, 2020 for her anti-farmer video. Her hate filled, offensive, virulent Islamophobic activity online was compiled by CJP and it may be viewed here.
We received a response from Facebook Ireland stating that they are not in position to take action based on our concerns, and that we should reach out to the party responsible who posted the content for resolution of the issue. They further said that if there is any court order against the party, they will continue to look into the matter.
A response of this nature only undermines Facebook’s own policy on Objectionable content (hate speech) and Violence and Criminal Behaviour (Violence and Criminal incitement). If it were practical solution to reach out to the party to stop them from indulging in hateful and inciteful speech, there was no need for the social media platform to intervene at all. The response from the Facebook team, apart from being disappointing, shows their lack of intent on acting against the hatred bandwagon in the country, especially repeat offenders of hate such as Ragini Tiwari.
Despite Facebook’s Community Standards on Objectionable content (hate speech) and Violence and Criminal Behaviour (Violence and Criminal incitement), various profiles continue to mobilise Hindus against Muslims for a “dharmyudh” (religious war) as Ragni Tiwari has called it in the past.
As reported by Article14, a news and media website, four months after the riots, she went live on Facebook again that received 18,000 views and remained available till October 1. On September 30, Article 14 reported all the videos mentioned in this story to Facebook to review for hate speech and violent threats, but there was no response to the day this story was published. By the time Facebook took it down, the damage had already been done as the video received thousands of views.
In the 23-minute-long video she said, “Yes, for my country and religion, I cleaned out Jaffrabad, and I don’t regret it. If I stay alive, then I vow that every time Shaheen Bagh and Jaffrabad [situations] are created, I will clean them out again, in my style.”
Another video of Ragni Tiwari, this time against farmers, went viral on Facebook. We reported about it in SabrangIndia, CJP’s sister publication, against the ongoing farmer protests. She appealed to the masses to prepare themselves for December 17 to recreate Jafrabad (read Delhi violence) if the farmers don’t stop protesting and leave Delhi. She openly issued a fresh warning to the Central and Delhi Government that if the protests are not put an end to by December 16, she will take to the streets and get all roads cleared and history will repeat itself. By history, she means the Delhi pogrom where she brazenly called for the slaughter of Muslims.
This led to CJP filing a complaint with Facebook on December 24 to thoroughly look through her account and take it down to avoid further incitement of violence. But having received no response from the platform and continued operation of several pages and accounts suggests that Facebook has failed to proactively ensure that it is not weaponised against people.
On May 30, one Anjali Varma, who calls Ragni Tiwari, “didi” went live on Facebook openly accepting that she has made a new account named “Anjali Hindu” as her account has been reported and taken down thrice. She urged her 12,000 followers to support Hindutva supporting women like her and Ragni Tiwari who were stepping out of the traditional role of a homemaker and to join her new page.
She also said, “Since the time Ragni didi, two more people and I started protesting in favour of CAA in Maujpur, Jaffrabad got cleaned out, Chandbagh got cleaned out, people started noticing us. Shaheen Bagh cleared itself. It was necessary to clean these places out or else our country’s condition would have worsened by now.”
Her Facebook accounts continue to operate. Her Facebook Live may be viewed here:
Accounts like that of Anjali Varma continue to function by different names and Facebook fails to take strict coercive action. Anjali’s Varma, on June 1, uploaded a post that read, “Pandal Ram ka aur gungaan Islam ka. Aisa Kaise chalega BS*** #Vampanthiyo” (Leftist).
Her entire Facebook Page may be seen here: TRIGGER WARNING: EXTREMELY COMMUNAL CONTENT AND OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE
Similarly, serial hate offender Deepak Sharma continues to have a Facebook account with 17,286 followers despite his bias and prejudicial reportage on Hathras in favour of “upper-caste” men insinuating that the victim’s family was responsible for her death. He is a serial hate offender because he is known for his host of provocative posts without any checks for facts or even sensitivity. He has called for beheading non-believers and wishes for more Godhra like incidents. His profile is a landmine of abusive and hateful posts and is constantly seen supporting and being supported by BJP politicians, including Telangana’s T Raja.
Facebook has helped news and media channels to team up with such offenders to share and transmit discriminatory content. The Hathras reportage by Deepak Sharma on Facebook is anti-victim and baseless which is now backed by proof, now that the CBI has filed a chargesheet against the four accused persons for gangrape and murder of the 19-year-old Dalit girl. A detailed report may be read here.
CJP flagged his profile to National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) on December 27, 2018 and his profile was unavailable in early January, 2019 but it remains unclear whether Sharma himself, or Facebook, took it down. Read all about his brazen hate activity here.
T Raja Singh
Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh’s Facebook account (now taken down) also had repeated instances of speech inciting violence. But it continues to have fan pages called Tiger Raja Singh Fan Club and T Raja Singh Samarthak Jalgaon PRK Group with 2,19,430 and 17,018 followers respectively.
In February, 2019 CJP’s Hate Watch wrote that it had identified how one false rumour was proliferated, and prompted a hate-filled speech by Raja Singh that was broadcast via Facebook. CJP had then highlighted Singh’s influential position as a sitting member of the Telangana Legislative Assembly as well as a party whip in the state, noting that he had half a million followers on Facebook.
This incident took place right after the BJP-PDP alliance in Jammu and Kashmir collapsed, and ahead of the Amarnath Yatra scheduled for July-August. A Facebook page tied to the BJP youth wing, (which is currently unavailable), spread fake news alleging that Omar Abdullah has threatened to end the Amarnath Yatra and this resulted in T Raja going on Facebook Live and verbally abusing him. In 2018, Singh had posted on his Facebook account explicitly asking his followers not to buy anything from the “terrorist Kashmiris” for the annual Amarnath Yatra. By July 2019, the video had been viewed 3,00,000 times.
He has also had FIRs registered against him for promoting enmity between groups but Facebook continued to entertain his account harbouring venomous content. CJP had also discovered in 2019 that his page which was supposedly taken down, was not the case and his official page was active.
CJP was invited to a Roundtable on Online Hate Speech: Facebook Community Standards, organised by the faculty members of Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS): Prof. Lakshmi Lingam, Dr. Shilpa Phadke and Mr. Faiz Ullah, sponsored by Facebook India, on February 5, 2019. During the question answer session with Facebook’s Varun Reddy, CJP through its Secretary Teesta Setalvad and its sister publication- SabrangIndia writer Amir Rizvi showed examples of hate speech, like the page of Raja Singh, which was not taken down even after repeated reporting.
Finally, in 2020 Raja Singh was among the central figures named in an August Wall Street Journal report that claimed Facebook ignored hate speech by BJP leaders to protect its business interests in India. By March of this year, they concluded Mr. Singh not only had violated the company’s hate-speech rules but qualified as dangerous, a designation that takes into account a person’s off-platform activities, according to current and former Facebook employees familiar with the matter. But as mentioned above, his fan pages continue to operate and unleash provocative content.
This report which was published on August 14, 2020 noted that even though Facebook accepted the violated hate speech standards and was a dangerous element, he was still active on Facebook and Instagram, where he had hundreds of thousands of followers. (His account was taken down after August 2020).
Dr. Zakir Naik
The Islamic Preacher posted an excerpt on Facebook of the Al Quran 9:61 phrase, “But those who abuse the Messenger of Allah will have a painful punishment,” alluding to the recent beheading of a teacher in France for showing caricatures of the Prophet. This is nothing but a threat of violent reprisals against those who show images or cartoons of Prophet Mohammed. However, that post was taken down. It is not known if he did it himself or the authorities took it down.
With his ‘Weekly Live Q&A Session’ with his son Fariq, he tries to overthrow all progressive ideas necessary for a civilization to survive and instead preach divisive ideas. Naik is one of the most followed preachers on social media with 2.01 million subscribers on YouTube and a following of 22,729,029 on Facebook.
Answering a query about whether good non-Muslims would get a place in heaven, he said they would not find a place in heaven as they were still non-Muslims committing the sin of ‘shirk’ or idol worship. He added that good non-Muslims could get place in a milder version of hell but would not end up in heaven until they embraced Islam.
In one of his old videos, he supported Osama Bin Laden by saying, “If Laden terrorized the biggest terrorist, America, I’m with him,” further adding, “Every Muslim should be a terrorist for if he (Laden) is terrorizing a terrorist, he’s following Islam”. His radical Islamic ideas have been documented by SabrangIndia here. He continues to have a verified account on Facebook.
CJP had also tracked down politician and National President of the Hindu Samaj Party, Kamlesh Tiwari’s Facebook account replete with anti-Islam and ‘Muslim free’ India posts, revealing the huge amount of hateful content propagated on the social media giant without restrictions.
His videos about spreading Hindutva and saffronising Pakistan have been removed from YouTube for violating its hate speech policies, but some posts on Facebook continue to exist without scrutiny. Tiwari who has around 8 criminal cases pending against him, enjoys 2,071 followers on Facebook with a cover picture that has a photo of Kamlesh Tiwari with a few lines in Hindi about the need of progress of the Hindus and Hindutva. However, what is questionable in his cover picture is the line ‘Islam-mukt Bharat’ (Islam free India).
We, at CJP, also took note of a Facebook Live (not available anymore) that he did on February 17, 2019, during a rally in Lucknow, where his party members were seen gathered in a crowd while one of them said, “Whichever Hindu soldier is listening to this, just kill them (Muslims and Pakistanis) without any second thoughts. Whatever happens next, we will look after it.” They all together then said ‘Jai Shri Ram.’ The video received 1.8k views and 90 shares.
CJP’s team also discovered that Tiwari shared a lot of posts from another man’s FB profile named Vivek Shukla. We thus analysed his profile as well and came across another set of hateful and abusive posts. As per his profile, Shukla is the District Incharge, Etawah, UP of the Hindu Samaj Party and an engineer.
On May 8, 2019 he shared a post which read “Hindus, you’ll still have time, wake up. Otherwise, Godhra will be repeated once again. Jai Hindu, Jai Kamlesh.” In another post on May 5, 2019he wrote “We love our Hindu religion. Those who do not belong to this religion, find some other country to live in.” While Kamlesh Tiwari was contesting the 2019 elections, he posted, “Hurt those who are against the Hindus.” Notably, all such posts are shared with a saffron background and available even after a year.
The Varanasi Church attack
On October 10, 2018, we wrote to the National Human Rights Commission and Ms. Ankhi Das, Public Policy Director, India, South & Central Asia, Facebook regarding the incident in Varanasi, St. Thomas Church in Godaulia which was allegedly vandalised by Hindu extremists, some of whom also posted inflammatory content targeting the Christian community on Facebook. The social media platform became the playground for vicious sentiments, but why can’t Facebook remove all such content before it provokes communal hatred through sharing?
Blocking legitimate content
Amidst all the hate filled noise, Facebook blocked slain journalist Gauri Lankesh’s Kannada news website named NaanuGauri.com in July last year. An official statement released by the team that brings out the digital publication says, “Facebook has blocked Gauri Lankesh media’s Kannada website completely. From yesterday Facebook is not allowing us to share any of our links and they have hidden all the links shared previously. They have failed to give any specific reason for the same, except throwing a message like ‘You have violated our community standards’, which is far from being true.”
But within two days, Facebook restored the URL of naanugauri.com claiming that it was an “error” and apologised for the same. But they continued to be sceptical of Facebook’s response. Dr. Vasu, the website in-charge, told The Week, “When the website was blocked, we went through the Facebook option seeking a review of their decision (to block). Some readers tried to post the URL and then registered their opinion saying they disagree with the Facebook opinion (that the link was violating the community standards). Soon, prominent people like Teesta Setalvad, Jignesh Mevani and Prakash Rai posted it on their FB wall and registered their protest.”
The recent example of Facebook taking down and later restoring the Kisan Ekta Morcha page highlights the selective monitoring of accounts in India. Kisan Ekta Morcha is a farmers’ collective and its Facebook page, had notched up 75,000 followers within a week. The group collects and collates information from different farmers’ unions and posts them across social media, in the backdrop of the ongoing farmer agitation.
Facebook seemingly blatantly allows Hindutva hate speech pages but it censors secular and peaceful websites like IMSD.in and trolleytimes.online (that is posting information about the farmer agitation at Singhu Border). When a CJP team member tried posting such censored websites, Facebook did not allow as it goes against community standards of “spam”. Facebook asks for one’s opinion and if the user disagrees with the decision, Facebook says, “Thanks for your feedback. We use it to make improvements on future decisions.” But the improved decision is invisible. Here are some screenshots for reference:
A report from the University of Oxford titled, The Global Disinformation Order 2019: Global Inventory of Organised Social Media Manipulation, said that Facebook continues to be the global platform of choice for political parties and governments to spread disinformation and shape public opinion. The report analysed 70 countries including India to track the increasing number of governments and political parties around the world that are using social media propaganda to discredit political opponents, drown out opposing views, or undermine trust in the liberal international order. Despite there being other platforms, Facebook continues to dominate because of its global outreach and for structurally lending itself well to the spread of disinformation like users go there to read the news and share it with friends and family, and can easily set up groups or pages. Currently, there are 346.2 million Indian Facebook users.
Even though Facebook has set standards against public safety, hate speech, violence, discrimination, Facebook India fails to take cognisance of the communally charged politics that plagues the country. Comprehending the difference between hate speech and free speech requires a greater understanding of India’s diversity and India’s track record of communal clash. Not paying attention to identifying and singling out hate speech on Facebook also legitimises hate speech that, as the courts have recognised, can have detrimental societal impacts.
In Pravasi Bhalai Sangathan vs Union of India and Ors AIR 2014 SC 1591, the top court had said,
“Hate speech is an effort to marginalise individuals based on their membership in a group. Using expression that exposes the group to hatred, hate speech seeks to delegitimise group members in the eyes of the majority, reducing their social standing and acceptance within society. Hate speech, therefore, rises beyond causing distress to individual group members. It can have a societal impact. Hate speech lays the groundwork for later, broad attacks on vulnerable that can range from discrimination, to ostracism, segregation, deportation, violence and, in the most extreme cases, to genocide. Hate speech also impacts a protected group’s ability to respond to the substantive ideas under debate, thereby placing a serious barrier to their full participation in our democracy.”
Facebook’s automated filters are supposed to filter hate speech too, but in India it fails to work at all levels. For example, any user can search for hate content by searching a handful of ‘key words’, which Facebook does not filter out. Even now, if a user searches for a term “Kattar Hindu” or “Panchar”, hate speech pages emerge without Facebooks intervention.
Shibu Thomas, the Founder of Persecution Relief, an organisation that provides comprehensive support to persecuted Christians in India wrote an open letter to Mark Zuckerberg in 2020 asking him why he refuses to mute perpetrators of hate and murder on is platform, especially in India.
He noted that, “Facebook has played a key role in endorsing communal harmony in other nations. However, in India, your organisation seems to be doing just the opposite.” He agreed that although Facebook has been very instrumental in helping sensitize the world about Christian persecution in India, he witnessed several challenges with Facebook.
He said that his page was blocked for months, despite many grievances being made to Zuckerberg’s support team. “I also have a difficult time uploading posts if the content is related to minorities, Christianity, persecution etc. On many occasions I have also been blocked,” he wrote.
A report dated October 6, 2018 prepared by the TISS team (Chinar Mehta, Lakshmi Lingam and Shilpa Phadke), attempted to identify some of the relevant concerns from the existing Facebook Community Standards that may be opened for discussion and improved for more sensitivity. For instance- with respect to “sexual exploitation of adults” that is covered in Facebook’s community standards, the TISS report raises questions like “In what ways is fear created on social media and how can it be mitigated? (regarding threat to sexual violence) or “What are the forms in which feedback on this may be given to Facebook and are there changes that might be desirable?”
The TISS team tries to lay down areas that need further discussion and contextualisation based on personal and social community experiences. The report titled, “Facebook & Tata Institute of Social Sciences Community Standards Roundtable Conversations” has been marked and annexed hereto as ANNEXURE C.
With Citizens for Justice and Peace’s hate watch series as mentioned above, we have documented such instances where social media platforms like Facebook has been misused for organising crimes and violence in various regions of India. Where Facebook has taken actions with respect to some posts and accounts that have garnered public attention, there are countless such accounts mushrooming on the platform spreading misinformation along with offensive and inflammatory hate filled speech. If one account gets removed, another gets created. There are such offensive accounts on the platform that can easily be found by just typing in a few keywords. If users can so easily find them, surely there can be an algorithm developed by an internet giant such as Facebook, that can immediately block such content before it reaches people and wreaks much damage. It is clearly the lack of willingness at Facebook India that is still allowing the platform to be used as pedestal to disseminate and peddle hate rather than being just a harmless social networking site to connect with friends.
CJP’s Hate Watch series also desires to bring to everybody’s attention the ghastly consequences of hate speech that strikes at the heart of an individual or a group’s dignity. Hate filled speeches like that of Ragini Tiwari, Kamlesh Tiwari, Dr. Zakir Naik, T. Raja contributes to divide the composite culture of India. In Amish Devgan (supra), the top court noted that hate speech focuses on the substance of the message which is to cause humiliation and alienation of the targeted group.
The objective of criminalising such speech is to “protect the dignity and to ensure political and social equality between different identities and groups regardless of caste, creed, religion, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation, linguistic preference etc. Freedom to express and speak is the most important condition for political democracy.” In this context of criminalising speech, the court explained that dignity, “refers to a person’s basic entitlement as a member of a society in good standing, his status as a social equal and as bearer of human rights and constitutional entitlements. It gives assurance of participatory equality in interpersonal relationships between the citizens, and between the State and the citizens, and thereby fosters self-worth.”
Facebook India’s lack of willingness to deal with hate speech and favourability towards right wing propaganda became increasingly clear when Wall Street Journal released another report that stated that the company fears that crackdown on hate groups could prove threatening to its staff. While its safety team had deemed Bajrang Dal, a Hindu nationalist organization to be “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, its security team warned that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India.
Now that Donald Trump’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been banned over his abusive tweets as his supporters stormed the US Capitol, it should be interesting to see where India stands. Some civil rights groups and lawmakers have said that the internet companies have allowed misleading content to proliferate for too long, resulting in dangerous consequences. In India, for years, Facebook and Twitter have largely rebuffed complaints to remove hate speech or other incendiary comments made by public figures and government officials that civil society groups said risked inciting violence.
The demand now is to urge social media companies to apply their policies evenly, particularly in countries where such platforms dominate communications and also take cognisance of the varying political climate in different countries.
(This report has been put together by the CJP’s Legal Research team in consultation with the organisation’s Hate Watch team and will be updated regularly).