India’s Ecosystem of Hate: Is Facebook both, a Beneficiary and an Offender? Complete text of Teesta Setalvad’s speech at online event organized by Real Facebook Oversight Board on January 20, 2022
21, Jan 2022 | Teesta Setalvad
Hate is today a state project in India where the political formation in power, its vigilante organisations and brown shirts are mentally and physically armed through hate propaganda to violently harm religious minorities, women and Dalits targets. Prejudiced Ideas, Acts of Prejudice, Discrimination, Violence – four stages prior to Genocide—have been breached.
The end goal of this hate, engineered through targeted sexual and other kinds of physical violence is the alteration of the Indian republic into a majoritarian theocratic state and the permanent reduction of these sections of Indians to second class citizens. India has variously dubbed only “partly free” (Freedom House, 2021), only a “partially free electoral autocracy”, [(V-Dem) Democracy Institute 2021], low on the Freedom Index down to 111th (of 162 countries). It is also seen as a country of particular concern when it comes to the dignity, life safety and security of minorities. It is in this context that the Supremacist, Hate as State Project needs to be evaluated by international govts, corporations and platforms. December 2021 and the new year saw an all-out call for the mass killing/genocide of Muslims from one of north India’s ‘Holy’ cities, Christians were attacked across the country and unable to attend Church and enjoy Christmas. A particular community, India’s largest minority and its women and girls are debasing target –through 2021 and 2022–through twitter accounts, Github and Clubhouse platforms where the macabre and shameful phenomenon of their auctions has taken place. A Radio Silence from the political leadership in power in New Delhi clearly signifies consent. Hate Crimes that result enjoy therefore a high level of impunity. That Facebook can be a participant-platform for this escalation up the genocidal pyramid is shocking and unacceptable.
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Within this overall scenario, Facebook India as a platform is paying a dangerous role. Facebook has a vast clientele of 460 million plus users in English and 22 Indian languages and allows, unchecked inciteful content, that has become an unchecked instrument for targeting minorities, Dalits, women.
Some quick examples: In Oct 2018 we complained to Ms. Ankhi Das, the Public Policy Director, India, South and Central Asia, Facebook about the vandalisation of a Church in Varanasi, St. Thomas Church in the prime minister’s parliamentary constituency, by extremists, some of whom had also previously posted –on Facebook –inflammatory content targeting the Christian community. No response.
In 2019, our HateWatch programme had analysed how one elected official of the influential ruling BJP party from a state in the south, Telangana amplified a rumour and added his own hate-filled speech on Facebook where he had half a million viewers. A year earlier, he had called for a vicious economic boycott of “terrorist Kashmiris” during the Amarnath Yatra on a video that has been viewed 3,00,000 times. Finally, he was a central figure flagged in the Aug 2020 WSJ Report on how the corporation ignored hate speech by BJP leaders in India to protect its business interests.
By March 2021, when Facebook finally concluded that he, Raja Singh, had violated its own Community standards (Objectionable Content) and Violence and Criminal Behaviour rules, he was removed from FB. His Fan Pages with 2,19,430 and another with 17,018 followers, however continue to operate and generate provocative content.
Similar stark examples around the Delhi 2020 targeted violence of Muslims in the capital, Delhi by Ragini Tiwari (“kill or die” call), Kapil Mishra, Anjali Verma show that it is the unchecked use of Facebook in non-English languages that is instrumental in the spill and spiral of targeted of violence. Facebook Inc has responded to two complaints sent by CJP against hate content made by Ragini Tiwari, stating that they are not in a position to take any action against Tiwari. Instead, Facebook suggested that CJP contact the party directly to get a resolution on the issue.
Then there is a serial hate offender, Deepak Sharma who Facebook is extremely reluctant to disengage with: we developed a detailed profile of his activities and character through Facebook. We complained, brought it up in writing and at round-tables. With thousands of followers, he still enjoys space on the platform. CJP has also been steadily tracking, documenting, reporting and complaining about the man at the centre of the genocidal hate story, Yati Narsinghanand Saraswati, for years now pointing out the eco-system of hate he has created. During this elaborate process, in November 2018, four years before the genocidal call to kill Muslims was made by him in December 2021, when a CJP member complained about his FB post where he said Hindus should be armed 24X7 to protect their religion and that Islam is cancer, we were told by FB India that this does not go against their community standards but if we have an issue, we can either block Yati or unfollow his page. In short, we have tried to engage however and whenever given the chance, have had detailed correspondences, attended India Roundtables, have offered more than a dozen and a half of minute case studies and many, more complaints that, have unfortunately resulted in unsatisfactory results. All this work has also been at a risk and cost as the government tracks the critiques and dissenters. One of the main issues which is a stumbling block despite the FB mega corporation’s own set standards against public safety, hate speech, violence, discrimination, is that Facebook India fails to take cognisance of the local context of supremacist and communally charged politics. Comprehending the difference between hate speech and free speech requires a candid engagement with an understanding of India’s diversity and India’s track record of vicious, targeted communal violence. Allowing such hate content on Facebook also legitimises such content that, even courts have –albeit slowly –recognised.
Facebook’s automated filters which are supposed to filter hate speeches too, falter in India in the non-English languages: Any user can today search for hate content through a handful of ‘key words’, which Facebook does not filter out. Words or terms like “Kattar Hindu” (rigid or fanatical Hindu) पंचर पुत्र, पंचर छाप, मुल्ले, मुल्ला, क*आ, हलाला, हलाला कीऔलाद, बाबर कीऔलाद which are particular derogatory/slang terms devised simply escape all filters. (“Panchar” slang/derrorgatory term for Muslims who work in automobile garages).
In fact, there are individuals, groups and pages with the ID Kattar Hindu, they have hundreds of thousands of followers. These. can be found on FB, WhatsApp, Twitter.
All of the above is also, by the way, violative of Indian Law and Jurisprudence, international law and conventions including the UN’s 2019 Call against Xenophobia and Hate Speech and the 2011 UN Guiding Principle on Business and Human Rights.
About the HRIA process -We had extensive meets and dealings with the HRIA process and our analyses and case studies, complaints and responses were deliberated upon on several occasions and in great detail. The dismay that this is not out yet is not just disappointing it is a big blow to accountability and transparency from a mega corporation.
The close connection between electoral politics and hate content-speech in India, print, electronic has been widely documented. The hollowing out of some of our Constitutional Institutions meant to check such unconstitutional content –the Election Commission of India (ECI) mandated under law to check “the misuse of religion for political ends”—makes the situation more fragile, explosive, dangerous. While India remains the world’s largest democracy, supremacist majoritarianism threatens its constitutional core. A 2019 “Status of Policing in India” report 2019 that interviewed 12,000 policemen and women revealed shocking prejudices: 70 per cent believed that Muslims were prone to more violence and 30 per cent that Dalits too had the same proclivities. Laws are being enacted today, Cow Slaughter laws and anti-Conversion laws (Love Jihad) laws that are nothing but a weaponisation of the law & order machinery. India is seriously on the brink.
Under these circumstances, the formidable Facebook clientale that has crossed 463 million, plus the millions of Whatsapp and Instagram users –platforms also owned by Facebook—and also a source of spreading hate multiplies manifold this deleterious social impact.
Facebook needs to engage with the issue directly, honestly and comprehensively. “Facebook must Release the full, undiluted, and unredacted HRIA on India.”