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Kolkata: Facebook on the night of August 18 disabled the ‘No Vote to BJP’ group which had more than 33,000 members and which had campaigned against Bharatiya Janata Party ahead of the West Bengal assembly polls earlier this year.
The group is run by members of the platform, ‘Bengal against Fascist BJP-RSS’. Many political observers believe that the group played an important role when it came to creating public opinion against the party ahead of the keenly contested election.
The BJP lost, and the ruling Trinamool Congress returned to power.
The citizens’ initiative, however, is not aligned with the TMC either or any other political party. Their efforts largely comprised an online and street campaign in which members asked people to vote for any party other than the BJP.
After the group was disabled on August 18 (Wednesday), its admins attempted to get an answer from Facebook as to what led to the move. They also launched a fresh hashtag campaign on Facebook, demanding that the group be enabled again. In the afternoon of August 20, the group was finally reactivated.
This was not the first time that a Facebook group campaigning against the BJP and its politics has been deactivated by the platform. Earlier, a similar group with significantly larger number of members faced such action four times.
“We were not given any prior warning or intimation. The group was simply disabled. We got a generic response that the group was disabled for violating their community standards. But there was no explanation to which community standard was violated or which post or posts in the group violated it,” says researcher and documentary filmmaker Kasturi Basu, one of the administrators of the ‘No Vote to BJP’ group.
The Facebook ‘page’ of the campaign, with more than 17,000 followers, was not deactivated.
However, while a ‘page’ allows only one-way communication – only ‘admins’ can post – in a group every member can post. Often, a Facebook ‘group’ can prove a more useful avenue than a Facebook ‘page’ for discussions.
“That Facebook actively and systematically mutes anti-BJP voices in India is an open secret now. The Ankhi Das revelation had even provided material evidence of this,” Basu says.
Basu believes that there is ample evidence to show that posts espousing communal hatred made by people linked with BJP and its parent organisation, Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), are ignored by Facebook, while individuals and associations engaged in mass mobilisation against BJP and RSS are targeted.
“What are Facebook community standards exactly? Are they BJP standards? Because if one made a list of hateful, vile, violent, communal right-wing content that passes “Facebook community standards” that list won’t be a flattering advertisement for Mark Zuckerberg’s company,” she adds.
Another group, same story
Anti-BJP activists in Bengal say that Facebook had earlier disabled another big ‘group’ called ‘No NRC Movement’ – which at present has 1.71 lakh members, mostly from Bengal – as many as four times. On the final occasion, it remained disabled for a month. Those involved with the group say they believe Facebook authorities were working at the behest of the BJP.
“A group with more than one and a half lakh members being used for mass mobilisation on an issue of immense national importance remains disabled for one month. Who are the Facebook authorities trying to amuse? Aren’t they hand-in-glove with the BJP?” asked Ranjit Sur, a vice-president of Association for Protection of Democratic Rights (APDR), Bengal’s largest human rights organisation.
Sur says that Western corporates were expected to at least follow the standards of western democratic models of free speech but platforms like Facebook and Twitter were doing exactly the opposite, concerning themselves only with profits.
“Outside the western world, these corporates are directly aligning with the country’s ruling party, irrespective of whether the rulers are fascists or fundamentalist forces. They are working hard to curb voices of dissent against the ruling forces. They are targeting those who are directly opposing the BJP and RSS, naming these organisations, or naming Prime Minister Narendra Modi and home minister Amit Shah in their posts criticising government policies,” Sur says.
Filmmaker Aniket Chattopadhyay, who is also a part of the ‘No Vote to BJP’ campaign, says that he feels proud seeing that the BJP and the RSS were perhaps scared of their campaign.
“Do you think the Facebook authorities disabled the page without instruction from BJP and RSS? It kind of pleases me to see that BJP and RSS are so scared of our campaign,” says Chattopadhyay.
After the group was reactivated, trade unionist Kushal Debnath, also a member of the campaign, wrote a post on Facebook in Bengali which, roughly translated to English, reads, “The result of our protests! Following widespread condemnation on social media, Facebook authorities stirred under pressure and withdrew the ban. Will continue to protest against injustices.”