Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of Facebook, claims to be against the use of his popular social media portal for spreading hatred. He said that there ‘is no place for hate speech or content that promotes violence.’ Can we trust him? How serious is he to ensuring his claims? Is he ready to walk the talk?
After all, accusations have been made for a number of years that Facebook has been complicit in hate crimes against minorities in many parts of the world. Consider, eg the case of Buddhist Myanmar where genocidal crimes were committed since at least 2012. In August 2017, the Myanmar military launched a so-called ‘clearance operation’ in Rakhine State, home to Rohingya and other ethnic minorities. Over several weeks, soldiers committed atrocities in the region, killing thousands, committing mass rapes, burning villages to the ground, and forcing exodus of nearly a million Rohingya people (mostly to neighbouring Bangladesh) that have been described by the international community as genocidal crimes.
In September 2018, in a report on the situation in Myanmar, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar highlighted the role Facebook played in creating an enabling environment in the country for the commission of atrocities. In a March 2018 report on the Rohingya crisis, Marzuki Darusman, head of the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, said Facebook ‘substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict’ in Myanmar. ‘Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that,’ Darusman said.
Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cyber security policy, confessed that the platform covertly spread propaganda linked to the Myanmar military (Tatmadaw), further related to the Rohingya Muslim genocide. While Facebook is not directly involved in these vile acts, it sure gives a platform for hatred to grow and spread on a broader rate than it was ever possible in history.
Now with the breaking news of Facebook’s spreading anti-Muslim sentiments in India and assisting the ruling party, Bhartiya Janata Party, to create a hateful sentiment, the debate has once again resumed over Facebook’s credibility and power structure. Many Muslims have been lynched to death in the hands of Hindutvadi fascists in Modi’s India.
The Wall Street Journal found evidences of Hindutvadi fascist leaders like Kapil Mishra actively inciting violence in India and leading to the Delhi Riots 2020, without getting flagged on the social media platform. Another BJP leader T Raja Singh from the state of Telangana openly called for Rohingya Muslims’ slaughter and threatened to demolish mosques. He is also accused of inciting violence and hatred against India’s Muslim community. While Facebook’s online security staff initiated a ban on his account, Ankhi Das, the public policy director of Facebook India, stepped in to stop the ban.
According to the Wall Street Journal, Das expressed her support for the BJP and its leader, Indian prime minister Narendra Modi, in internal company communications. She celebrated Modi’s election victory in 2014 and disparaged his opponents in the rival Congress party. ‘It’s taken thirty years of grassroots work to rid India of state socialism finally,’ Das said, praising Modi as a ‘strongman’. She also shared a post that described India’s Muslims as a ‘degenerate community’.
Das was motivated not to prevent hate speech because ‘punishing violations by politicians from Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country.’ These incidents belong to a sequential agenda of pushing forth the fascist Hindutvadi ideals in India, aligning with the country’s ruling party, which is a huge market of Facebook, with 290 million users. (In the face of much criticism, recently the social media giant is reported to have closed the account of Raja Singh for posts violating its policy on promoting violence and hate.)
Facebook’s shady role in Indian politics — kowtowing with Hindutvadi fascists, for a price — has been blazingly apparent for nearly a decade. But it has taken a devastating expose in The Wall Street Journal to reveal its true ugly colour. The Wall Street Journal revelations, coming 115 days after Facebook invested $5.7 billion in Mukesh Ambani’s Jio Platforms, shows how business power houses and tech giants from Nariman Point to Menlo Park are heavily invested in India’s current politics that exploits social and communal fault-lines.
Such revelations from the Wall Street Journal shouldn’t surprise anyone. In July 2014, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg called on the prime minister in all saffron. During his visit to the USA in 2015, Narendra Modi gave a bear hug to Mark Zuckerberg before a town hall meeting at Facebook’s headquarters in Menlo Park, California.
Facebook’s collusion with BJP and the Modi government corroborates much of what appeared in a story in Bloomberg BusinessWeek in December 2017. That report, titled ‘How Facebook’s Political Unit Enables the Dark Art of Political Propaganda’ revealed Narendra Modi’s pre-2014 and post-2014 honeymoon with Facebook. It revealed that Modi had worked with Facebook’s ‘global government and politics team’ which ‘actively works with political parties and leaders to stifle opposition sometimes with the aid of ‘troll armies’ that spread misinformation and extremist ideologies.’
Among other things, the Bloomberg report said vis-a-vis Facebook three years ago:
‘In India, the company [Facebook] helped develop the online presence of Narendra Modi who now has more Facebook followers than any leader.
‘By the time of India’s 2014 elections, Facebook had for months been working with several campaigns. Modi relied heavily on Facebook and WhatsApp to recruit volunteers who in turn spread his message on social media.
‘Within weeks of Modi’s election, Mark Zuckerberg and Sheryl Sandberg both visited the nation as it was rolling out a critical free internet service that the government later curbed.
‘As Narendra Modi’s social media reach grew, his followers increasingly turned to Facebook and WhatsApp to target harassment campaigns against his political rivals. India has become a hotbed for fake news...
‘The nation has also become an increasingly difficult place for opposition parties and reporters. In the past year, several journalists critical of the ruling party have been killed. Hindu extremists who back Modi’s party have used social media to issue death threats against Muslims or critics of the government.’
Facebook’s reluctance to curb hate speech has been all too apparent across the globe (from Brazil, Sri Lanka, to Myanmar). In 2018, the Buddhist mob used Facebook to coordinate attacks against Muslim minorities living in Sri Lanka.
Mark’s soft corner for the Jewish state and Facebook’s lack of objectivity, capitulating to the Israeli narratives and taking side of the occupying criminal Zionist regime is quite visible. The inflammatory speeches by settler Jews have drawn much less attention from (the Israeli government and) Facebook to shut down, or arrest, compared to the calls for Palestinian resistance.
According to a study, published by the Berl Katznelson Foundation, 122,000 Facebook users directly called for violence with words like ‘kill,’ ‘murder’ or ‘burn’ against the Palestinians. ‘We have seen the impact of such incitement in the form of settler terror and trigger-happy soldiers executing injured Palestinians in the streets of the occupied state of Palestine,’ said Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organisation, in a statement in September 2016 in which he flipped the Israeli narrative and called for international protection. Facebook didn’t meet Palestinian leaders to discuss their concern.
Different news portals have conducted several assessments and found that Facebook is allowing anti-Islam and anti-Muslim posts that align with its political bias. In the face of criticism, Facebook claims not to increase the reach of hate posts. But more problematically, it has either decreased the reach of or permanently suspended the accounts of many human rights activists. Not surprisingly, again, most of these activists are from Muslim-majority areas like Palestine and Kashmir that are facing oppression and persecution by some of the most sinister governments of our time. A 2019 report by +972 Magazine also noticed a trend of shutting down WhatsApp (which is now owned by Facebook) and Facebook accounts of about 100 journalists and activists, banning them from sharing updates of when Israeli warplanes attacked Gaza in November 2019. A similar bias is seen in the case of Kashmir, a Muslim majority disputed region between India and Pakistan. This selective approach and favouritism mostly rule out against Muslims, triggering a worldwide debate.
Facebook’s user policies and community guidelines talk of unity, harmony, and condemning hate speech with constant monitoring. But the recent investigation by the Wall Street Journal clearly shows that Facebook prefers to keep politics over social and moral responsibility when it comes to the issues regarding Muslim minorities. As a matter of fact, the social platform is guilty of shielding genocidal planners and executioners.
Last month, Facebook moved to block a bid by The Gambia in a US court, in which it sought disclosure of posts and communications via Facebook by members of Myanmar’s military and police. This legal step is related to a case brought by The Gambia before the International Court of Justice, in which it has accused Myanmar of genocide against its Rohingya minority. Facebook urged the US District Court for the District of Columbia to reject the ‘extraordinarily broad’ request, saying it would violate a US law that bars electronic communication services from disclosing users’ communications.
Although Facebook has stated that it supports ‘action against international crimes’ by working with the appropriate authorities, Nicholas Koumjian, the head of United Nations Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar — an investigative body established to collect and analyse evidence of serious international crimes committed in Myanmar, has recently complained that Facebook had failed to share ‘highly relevant’ material that could be ‘probative of serious international crimes’ with the investigators. Without such evidences from Facebook, it may be difficult to demonstrate Tatmadaw’s ‘genocidal intent’ against the Rohingya.
One would have thought that Mark Zuckerberg, raised in a Reform Jewish household whose ancestors hailed from Germany, Austria and Poland, should know better than most human beings about the danger of hatred that had killed some six million Jews in Europe.
As of September 2020, Zuckerberg’s net worth is $111 billion, making him the fourth richest person in the world. In recent years, he has visited many parts of the world and/or met leaders of many countries to grow his business, which he hopes to attract five billion users.
Has greed taken over Zuckerberg’s judgment to blur the distinction between what’s morally right and wrong? Or, is there a deeper bigotry problem, especially against Islam? It is worth noting here that in June 2010, Pakistani deputy attorney general Muhammad Azhar Siddique launched a criminal investigation into Zuckerberg and Facebook co-founders Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes after a ‘Draw Muhammad’ contest was hosted on Facebook. As we’ve seen, many Muslims don’t take such abuses and insults lightly. So, why fan the flame if one does not either gain from it or is not a bigot?
Mark is married to a Buddhist, Priscilla Chan. Myanmar has a Buddhist majority the leaders of whom are guilty of committing genocidal crimes against the Muslim minorities, especially the Rohingya. Is there a connection again? It’s difficult to ignore such obvious signs.
Zuckerberg is also a philanthropist who has given away tens of millions of dollars for good causes. That’s encouraging news. But one will always question Mark’s sincerity when his earning is tainted with victim’s blood. Surely, he knows too well that Rohingya blood is on his hands. It is probably not too late to demand that Facebook and Mark’s philanthropic organisation pay handsomely for the dignified rehabilitation of the long-suffering Rohingya victims of hate. The sooner the better! The Rohingyas are a forgiving nation; they will forgive and move on with their new lives.
Dr Habib Siddiqui is a peace and rights activist.