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Civil Rights Groups Call for Facebook’s Ankhi Das to Step Down Until Company Finishes Conducting Audit 

"Should the audit or investigation reinforce the details of The Wall Street Journal, she [Ankhi Das] should be removed from her role," said over 40 organisations in an open letter to Facebook.

New Delhi: Over 40 human rights and internet watchdog organisations have called on Facebook to place Ankhi Das, the firm’s top Indian public policy executive, on leave until the company finishes conducting an ongoing audit of its India operations.

In an open letter sent to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, the various US, UK and New Zealand-based groups have said that the social media giant “must take immediate steps to ensure the independence and thoroughness of the ongoing human rights audit of its India operations, encompassing caste, religious bias, and elections operations”.

“The audit must be removed entirely from the influence of the India office and jointly overseen by Menlo Park staff and civil society groups with expertise in Caste and Religious Bias. Facebook must authorize the agent conducting the audit to partner closely with civil society groups,” the letter, which is signed by well-known civil rights organisations such as the Southern Law Poverty Center and Muslim Advocates, said.

The ‘audit’ that is referred to here was first reported on by TIME magazine last month.

According to the publication, Facebook has commissioned an “independent report on its impact on human rights in India” in an attempt to evaluate its role in spreading hate speech and incitements to violence.

Also read: Political Mudslinging Over Facebook Bias Will Only Let the Social Media Giant Off the Hook

This audit, which is being conducted by US law firm Foley Hoag, started even before the recent exposés by the Wall Street Journal, which indicated that Facebook India officials like Das had opposed applying internal hate speech rules to BJP politicians out of fears of ruining the company’s relationship with the ruling party.

The letter by the human rights groups specifically calls out Das and says she should be temporarily suspended.

“Facebook India should immediately place the public policy head Ms. Ankhi Das on a leave of absence, due to the reports of her role in Facebook’s continued failure to enforce its policies in India. Ms. Das should be placed on leave pending a full audit of Facebook India and an investigation into her statements as reported in The Wall Street Journal. Should the audit or investigation reinforce the details of The Wall Street Journal, she should be removed from her role,” it said.

“We are seeing the same playbook that was used to incite genocide in Rwanda in 1994 playing out in India. Then, radio broadcasts from government radio stations spread misinformation that helped incite ordinary citizens to take part in the massacres of their neighbors. Now, instead of radio stations, events like the North East Delhi pogrom are stoked by misinformation and hate speech shared on Facebook.”