‘FB Values Commercial Interests Not Human Lives’: Ex-Civil Servants

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People supporting the Citizenship Amendment Act beat a Muslim man during a clash with those opposing the law, in New Delhi. (File photo credit: Danish Siddiqui/Reuters).

SRINAGAR: A group of prominent former civil servants have flayed Facebook for ‘failing to implement its own policy’ of discouraging hate speech in India.

“That this seems to have been done to protect Facebook’s commercial interests is even more reprehensible”, a group of 53 former diplomats, police officers and bureaucrats who have gathered under the banner of ‘Constitutional Conduct Group’ wtote in an open letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zukerberg.

“Commercial interests at the cost of human lives?  If these are the crass calculations Facebook indulges in, it is no surprise that the calculus of hate is spreading like a virus in many parts of the world. To blame the algorithms of artificial intelligence is both to evade corporate responsibility and to deny the human agency involved in the framing of those very algorithms”, the letter, a copy of which was sent to Kashmir Observer, reads.

Read the full letter:

Dear Mr Zuckerberg,

We are a group of former civil servants of India belonging to the All India and Central Services, who have worked, in the course of our careers, with the Central Government as well as different State Governments ofIndia. As a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in being neutral, impartial and committed to the Indian Constitution. We have, in the past, written to the government and government institutions whenever we felt that the democratic rights of Indian citizens were being violated. We have not, so far, written to any non-Indian body. We are writing to you now, in a departure from our usual practice, because certain actions (or the absence of certain actions) by Facebook in their operations in India have thrown into danger some of the fundamental rights of the people of India. Our attention has been drawn to this by an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ)dated August 14th, 2020.

Most democratic countries assure their citizens of several basic rights and freedoms. Both the United States, the country of which you are a citizen, and India, do the same. Democratic rights can be adversely affected by hate speech, as you very well know. Which is why Facebook has made it part of its policy not to allow hate speech. Facebook defines hate speech as a direct attack on people for characteristics such as “race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity and serious disabilities or diseases .” Given this clear definition in your own policy, we are surprised that Facebook did not take action against some clear and serial offenders in India – persons like T Raja Singh and a few others – for their derogatory comments against people belonging to a different religion, accusing Muslims of spreading Covid 19, indulging in ’love jehad’ and various other misdemeanors. What is striking about Facebook’s leniency towards these persons is that all of them happen to be members of the political party in power. That Facebook did consider the posts to be offensive is apparent from the fact that these posts were deleted on Aug 17, after the WSJ wrote to Facebook seeking its comments. We are dismayed to learn, again from the WSJ article, that the Public Policy Head of Facebook India consciously opposed applying Facebook’s hate speech rules to members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because doing so would adversely affect the company’s business prospects in India.

Commercial interests at the cost of human lives?  If these are the crass calculations Facebook indulges in, it is no surprise that the calculus of hate is spreading like a virus in many parts of the world. To blame the algorithms of artificial intelligence is both to evade corporate responsibility and to deny the human agency involved in the framing of those very algorithms.

Mr Zuckerberg, you surely cannot be unaware that religious unrest has become a serious problem in India. The recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), coupled with the proposed National Registry of Citizens (NRC), threatens to take away the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and other minorities in India and put them in detention centers. You cannot also be ignorant of the communal riots that took place in Delhi in February 2020, in which 53 persons were killed, two thirds of them Muslims. Several cases of lynching and torture, primarily of Muslims and Dalits (oppressed castes and groups), have also occurred in India in recent years. The majority of these are related to ‘cow vigilantism’, i.e. religious extremists resorting to violence in apparent efforts to protect cows from being illegally slaughtered. Many of these crimes have been instigated through hate speech spread through various communication channels, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Despite being aware of this, Facebook has failed to implement its own policy of discouraging hate speech in India, or has implemented it in a clearly partisan manner. That this seems to have been done to protect Facebook’s commercial interests is even more reprehensible. We note that such behaviour on Facebook’s part has become a subject of debate in other countries as well. Commercial interests at the cost of human lives?  If these are the crass calculations Facebook indulges in, it is no surprise that the calculus of hate is spreading like a virus in many parts of the world. To blame the algorithms of artificial intelligence is both to evade corporate responsibility and to deny the human agency involved in the framing of those very algorithms.

We are writing to you in the expectation that you will make serious efforts to audit the implementation of Facebook’s hate speech policy in India and, while such an audit is underway, ensure that the present Public Policy Head of Facebook, India, is not in a position to influence the investigations. We also fervently hope that in future, you will not let your company’s business prospects stand in the way of implementing your own policy against hate speech and posts which can lead to hate crimes. This is a sure way of demonizing minorities and inflicting violence upon them while undermining the democratic and secular basis of the Indian Constitution.

Yours sincerely,

Constitutional Conduct Group

Signatories as below

1. Salahuddin Ahmad IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
2. Shafi Alam IPS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Crime Records Bureau, GoI
3. K. Saleem Ali IPS (Retd.) Former Special Director, CBI, GoI
4. Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
5. Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
6. Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
7. Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
8. Aurobindo Behera IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha
9. Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
10. P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
11. Nitin Desai IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
12. M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
13. Sushil Dubey IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
14. K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
15. Prabhu Ghate IAS (Retd.) Former Addl. Director General, Department of Tourism, GoI
16. Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
17. Suresh K. Goel IFS (Retd.) Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI
18. H.S. Gujral IFoS (Retd.) Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Govt. of Punjab
19. Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
20. Wajahat Habibullah IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
21. Siraj Hussain IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI
22. Brijesh Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
23. Aloke B. Lal IPS (Retd.) Former Director General (Prosecution), Govt. of Uttarakhand
24. Subodh Lal IPoS (Resigned) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
25. Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
26. Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
27. Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
28. Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
29. Noor Mohammad IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority, Govt. of India
30. Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
31. Nagalsamy IA&AS (Retd.) Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
32. P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
33. Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
34. M.Y. Rao IAS (Retd.)
35. Satwant Reddy IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, GoI
36. Vijaya Latha Reddy IFS (Retd.) Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI
37. Julio Ribeiro IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
38. Aruna Roy IAS (Resigned)
39. Manabendra N. Roy IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
40. Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
41. N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI

 

 

42. A. Selvaraj IRS (Retd.) Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
43. Ardhendu Sen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
44. Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
45. Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
46. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFoS (Retd.) Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat
47. Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
48. Navrekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
49. Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
50. Jawhar Sircar

 

 

 

IAS (Retd.)

 

Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
51. Narendra Sisodia IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
52. Parveen Talha IRS (Retd.) Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
53. Geetha Thoopal IRAS (Retd.) Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata

 

54. Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir

 

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