Facebook India chief denies bias charge amid hate-speech row

RITU JHA

Facebook is in the eye of a storm across the globe in general and India in particular as a platform that promotes bigotry but Ajit Mohan, vice president and managing director of Facebook India, defended his team at the ongoing TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 conference.

Mohan has been summoned by a Delhi state legislature committee over the social network’s alleged role in the riots that rocked Delhi in February this year. Facebook has refused to have its executive appear before the committee, saying only the federal Indian government can regulate communications.

At the TechCrunch Disrupt 2020 Tuesday, September 15, Mohan was asked several

questions focused on Facebook India by TechCrunch reporter Manish Singh.

The questions ranged from Mohan’s plans for Facebook’s future in India, how they are adapting the Facebook India business to the market, investment in startups and the Indian telecom behemoth Reliance Jio.

Singh did not shy away from grilling Mohan on the controversy surrounding Facebook India and Ankhi Das, head of public policy at Facebook India, who has been named by The Wall Street Journal as backing the Right-wing in that country.

Asked what was exciting about India, Mohan said: “The largest number of people on Facebook and WhatsApp are in India. Instagram has grown really fast, so that really sets the context for our family of apps in India.”

He said the company stands for “values of free expression.”

Mohan noted that India is currently going through transformation like no other country, where billions of people are on the verge of being connected to digital services. This untapped market is a huge opportunity, he said.

He highlighted how in the past four years more than 500 million people in India have come online.

If you look at Facebook’s family of apps, we believe we have a useful role to play in fueling that transformation,” Mohan said.

Asked about the allegations against Facebook — that it gives a free run to hate-mongers — and its content policies, Mohan stressed the importance of being an open, neutral, non-partisan platform.

We have a deep belief and conviction that our enabling role is as a neutral platform that allows speech and expression of all kinds, including political expression,” he said.

He insisted the company has a lot of guidelines in place to ensure it “enables the diversity of expression and opinion” from all sides.

In many ways, some of the guiding principles online apply to discussions and expressions inside the company as well. We believe that the employee should have the ability to respectfully communicate their point of view. But the systems are designed to make sure that any preference or opinion of an employee, or a group of employees, is

quite separate from the company and the company’s objective enforcement of its policies,” he added.

He said that no individual really unilaterally has the ability to influence the decisions Facebook takes on content enforcement.

Asked about Facebook investing in Indian companies, Mohan iterated that the country is going through an exciting social and economic change.

We are thinking through how we can be an ally for India’s economic transformation, and we wanted to create a program for taking minority investments in early stage startups because we really wanted to figure out how we can be helpful for the startup ecosystem as a whole,” Mohan said.

Asked about Facebook’s $5.7 billion investment in Reliance Jio, Mohan said that Reliance is setting the foundation of India’s digital transformation, and Facebook wants be a part of that history.

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