Ankhi Das quits Facebook, days after appearing before parliamentary panel
Eastern Times:October 28, 2020, 1.00 am
New Delhi: Facebook executive Ankhi Das, who was embroiled in a controversy over alleged bias by the social networking giant in dealing with hate speeches, has resigned from the company on Tuesday.
A statement by Ajit Mohan, Facebook India’s Managing Director, said: “Ankhi has decided to step down from her role in Facebook to pursue her interest in public service. Ankhi was one of our earliest employees in India and played an instrumental role in the growth of the company and its services over the last nine years. She has been a part of my leadership team over the last two years, a role in which she has made enormous contributions. We are grateful for her service and wish her the very best for the future.”
However, since the global controversy over Das’s bias towards the ruling BJP regime in India came to light with news reports from The Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine, some weeks ago, industry insiders were sure that Das would have to quit Facebook, as the first damage control exercise for the social networking giant. They also said it would be through a process that looks like an “honourable exit” for Das.
Ms Das’ resignation comes weeks after both the company and she faced questions – both internally from employees and from the Indian government – over how political content is regulated on the popular social media platform, which boasts over 300 million users in the country.
In August, articles by The Wall Street Journal and TIME magazine – alleged Facebook did not apply hate speech rules uniformly. Speeches by BJP leaders that circulated widely on these platforms ahead of the February violence in Delhi were cited.
WSJ said that an executive – who was later identified as Das – suggested to the company that punishing such violations by BJP workers “would damage (its) business prospects”.
According to a second report by WSJ Das also “made internal postings over several years” detailing her support for the ruling BJP and disparaging its main rival – behaviour some staff saw as conflicting with the company’s pledge to remain neutral in elections around the world.
The articles saw the ruling BJP and opposition Congress fiercely attacking eah other with Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and others citing them as evidence that social media was being manipulated by the government. Congress wrote two letters to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg on the matter.
Facebook was called before a parliamentary panel chaired by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, but instead of Ms Das Mr Mohan turned up to field questions. The company was also summoned by the Peace and Harmony committee of the Delhi Assembly, but did not appear.
Last week Ms Das appeared before a parliamentary panel over “concerns over data privacy” and was questioned for nearly two hours.
Facebook was told that it cannot use the personal data of citizens for “inferential” purposes in advertising or business or elections. MPs across parties reportedly asked specific questions on what percentage of Facebook’s revenue is spent on safeguards for data protection.