Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang has sensationally revealed how the social media giant refused to block a fake account held by a BJP MP in 2019. Zhang, who worked as a data scientist in Facebook, has said that her repeated reminders fell on the deaf ears of those at the helm of affairs in her former organisation.
According to Zhang, she came across several fake accounts held by the BJP, the Congress and the Aam Aadmi Party in the run up to the polls. While she was able to remove other fake accounts, she failed to take similar action against an account held by a BJP MP.
“We took down four out of the five networks, but the fifth one – at the last moment, right before we were going to take it down, we realised that it was tied to a BJP politician, a Member of Lok Sabha, and as soon as they realised that, I could not get an answer from anyone on what’s going to be done with this network of fake accounts,” Zhang told NDTV.
The latest revelation showing Facebook’s biases in favour of the BJP would further dent the social media giant’s credibility. In 2020, America’s Wall Street Journal had reported how Facebook went soft on Hindu militant outfit Bajrang Dal, to protect its staff and business interests in India. This was even after Facebook’s own safety team concluded that the militant Hindu organisation with ties with the ruling BJP had supported violence against minorities across India. The safety team had even concluded that Bajrang Dal qualified as a ‘dangerous organisation’ and should be banned from its social media platform.
This was after the Hindu radical outfit claimed responsibility for the attack on a Delhi church through a video that clocked more than 2,50,000 views on Facebook.
The then lobbyist and Facebook’s India policy head, Ankhi Das, had come udner sharp attack for her alleged biases in favour of the Hindutva groups and role in promoting Islamophobia using her Facebook account when she called Indian Muslims a traditionally ‘degenerate community.’
Faced with growing condemnation and protests within Facebook, Das had later apologised before leaving Facebook.
Later, prestigious TIME magazine had revealed how the social media giant’s another lobbyist, Shivnath Thukral, had run internet campaigns for the BJP. The TIME’s investigation also highlighted how Thukral had once walked out of a meeting held to discuss the hate speech post by a BJP MLA in Assam.
The hate speech content in question was posted by Shiladitya Dev, a lawmaker in the state of Assam for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). He had shared a news report about a girl being allegedly drugged and raped by a Muslim man, and added his own comment, “This is how Bangladeshi Muslims target our [native people] in 2019.”
But, instead of removing the content, Facebook allowed the post to remain online for more than a year after the meeting, until TIME contacted Facebook to ask about it on 21 August. In its statement, Facebook conceded that it had assessed the BJP MLA’s post as hate speech soon after an NGO, Avaaz, flagged the issue. Facebook, however, admitted that it failed to ‘remove upon initial review, which was a mistake on our part.’