In June, dozens of religious extremists stormed a Pentecostal church near New Delhi, claiming it was built on a Hindu temple. In protest the group founded a Hindu idol and the pastor said he was hit on the head by the attackers.
Members of a Hindu nationalist organisation called Bajrang Dahl took responsibility for an invasion video that was watched almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social media company’s security team concluded earlier this year that Bajrang Dal supports violence against minorities across India and is likely to be classified as a dangerous organisation to be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the issue.
FB – 1.29%.
They were forced to withdraw the group after the security team warned that a break-in at Bajrang Dala could jeopardize the business prospects of the company and its employees in India, they said. In addition to causing unrest among India’s ruling nationalist politicians, Bajrang Dahl’s ban could speed up physical attacks against Facebook employees or facilities, the report warns.
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The availability of Facebook in India is decreasing and increasing in all other markets.
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Percentage change July – October 2020
These conflicting fears illustrate Facebook’s struggle against the hate speech that exists in the vast sea of content posted on its platform around the world. The calculation is especially difficult in India, Facebook’s largest market in terms of number of users. Facebook has local employees, recently invested $5.7 billion in a new retailer and is working with a government whose politicians have ties to Hindu nationalist groups.
We implement our policy on dangerous individuals and organizations around the world, regardless of political position or party affiliation, said Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone, urging the company to go through a process to determine which organizations should ban this thorough, rigorous and multi-disciplinary approach.
Stone said the security team’s warning that the ban on Bajrang Dal could jeopardize Facebook’s interests and that his employees were being discussed as part of standard procedure. He refused to say whether Facebook finally realised that the group could not be considered dangerous.
Supporters of Bajrang Dala, considered a militant religious organisation by the US Central Intelligence Agency, have been convicted of hate crimes and religious murders. Some Facebook communities show images of people who have been beaten or killed for their alleged crimes against Hinduism. According to CrowdTangle, a Facebook-based analysis tool, more than 5.5 million interactions with different groups and sites dedicated to Bajrang Dal were recorded this year.
Facebook’s policy does not allow groups involved in violence to be present on their platform.
A spokesman for Bajrang Dal said that his members are not involved in illegal activities and that there are no conflicts with other religious groups.
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The photo sharing service on Facebook is almost as widespread in India as it is in the United States.
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Percentage change July – October 2020
Facebook Security also warned of the risks associated with the deportation of two other right-wing nationalist groups active on the platform: Santa and Sri Ram Sena, according to people familiar with the subject. A spokesman for Sanatan Sanstha said the group was neither dangerous nor hateful on Facebook. The representative of Sri Rama Sena did not respond to the requests for comments.
Human rights activists on Facebook have turned India into a Tier 1 country, which means the country is highly exposed to social violence and therefore, according to people familiar with the issue, it needs to do more to protect vulnerable groups. That puts it on an equal footing with Myanmar, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. The appointment of India as a Facebook employee has not yet been announced.
In many countries where Facebook is available, the company has no employees. But it is strongly represented in India with five offices, including New Delhi and Mumbai. It is precisely at these locations and their employees that the company’s security team has reduced the potential risk of retaliation by extremists to zero.
More than 75% of the Indian population are Hindus, about 14% Muslims and 2% Christians.
In August, the Wall Street Journal reported that the managing director of Facebook in India, Anhi Das, had resisted attempts to apply hate speech to certain Hindu politicians and nationalist groups. Bajrang Dal is one of the organisations rewarded for promoting or participating in violence in the country.
Das left Facebook in October and stated in her internal message that she resigned in order to arouse her interest in public service. Mrs Das did not respond to requests for comments.
Anhi Das recently resigned as India’s Public Policy Officer on Facebook.
Priyanka Parachar/Mint Yard/Getty Pictures
A group of Facebook employees stated in an internal letter and in Facebook discussion groups that the presence of Bajrang Dahl on his platform, along with other organisations, calls into question the company’s commitment to fighting the hate speech in India.
Bajrang Dal has more than 2,000 branches throughout India and some of his members have committed violence against Christians, Muslims and lay people. These cases included the burning of an Australian missionary and his two sons, the massacre of Muslim women and children and the organisation of Hindu-Muslim unrest.
The group is a youth activist branch of a group affiliated with the Hindustani nationalist organisation Rashtriya Suayamsevak Sangha, for which Prime Minister Narendra Maudie had worked for decades before he won the elections in 2014. Rashtriya’s spokesman, Suayamsevak Sangh, forwarded the requests to Bajrang Dal. The spokesman for the Prime Minister’s office did not respond to the request for comments.
On Facebook, the group’s assessment in its internal project management system was blocked for most of the year, a term that generally means work has been suspended, people familiar with the issue said. The employee’s note in Facebook’s internal task management system, which was described in the logbook by those who saw it, advised not to impose a ban because of the difficulties caused by Byrang Dahl’s political connections.
Bajrang Dal has a history of violence, and the connection between content related to this group and offline violence is undeniable.
– Dia Kayali, witness.
Facebook’s Stone said that the staff member’s comments in Dublin did not reflect the views of the groups concerned and were made outside the formal process of selecting vulnerable organisations. According to him, marking the revision as blocked does not mean that the case was closed, but that no action was taken when it was stopped.
Bajrang Dahl has a violent past, and the link between content related to this group and offline violence is undeniable, said Dia Kayyali of Witness.org, a coalition of human rights groups, who spoke to Facebook staff about religious violence in India. If Facebook can’t have offices in India and repel organisations that cause real violence in the world, then the consequences need to be discussed.
A video about a Pentecostal church under construction was posted on Facebook by Jeet Vashist, who said in an interview that he was the president of Bajrang Dal district. On the tape, which was recorded some time after the invasion, several people stand in front of the red ape idol of the Hindu god Hanuman and walk singing Bajrang Dal.
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I and the other Hindustani brethren came here and violently restored the temple, said Mr. Vashist, 21, in a video that generated thousands of sympathies and comments. Break those dogs, write a comment. Hit her, brother, somebody else wrote.
Mr. Vashist denied that any of the church officials were attacked. Our organization only works to serve and protect Hindu society, he said.
Facebook made a video after the magazine asked for it.
Father Varun Malik said he was hit on the head by one of the invaders. I was really scared, he said. Church officials said they reported the incident to the police, but no action was taken against the men.
Minakshi Singh, general secretary of the Unity in Christ, a group of churches that includes the Pentecostal Church, accused Facebook of spreading poison.
They don’t remove flammable materials from the service, she said. It’s not safe for us in India.
-Krishna Pokharel contributed to this article.
Write to Jeff Horvitz at Jeff.Horwitz@wsj.com and Newley Purnell at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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