Not A Good Look: Facebook's Public Policy Director In India Files A Criminal Complaint Against A Journalist For A Social Media Post

from the not-cool dept

In today's insanity, Facebook's top lobbyist in India, Ankhi Das, has filed a criminal complaint against journalist Awesh Tiwari. Tiwari put up a post on Facebook over the weekend criticizing Das, citing a giant Wall Street Journal article that is focused on how Facebook's rules against hate speech have run into challenges regarding India's ruling BJP party. Basically, the article said that Facebook was not enforcing its hate speech rules when BJP leaders violated the rules (not unlike similar stories regarding Facebook relaxing the rules for Trump supporters in the US).

Das is named in the original article, claiming that she had pushed for Facebook not to enforce its rules against BJP leaders because it could hurt Facebook's overall interests in India. Tiwari called out Das' role in his Facebook post, and it appears Das took offense to that:

In her complaint to the police, Das asked for an investigation to be opened against Tiwari for sexual harassment, defamation, and criminal intimidation. If charged and convicted, Tiwari could face fines as well as up to two years in prison for sexual harassment, up to two years for defamation, and up to seven years in prison for criminal intimidation, according to the Indian penal code.

The complaint appears to allege that she's faced threats and harassment since Tiwari's post:

In her complaint, Das said: “Since August 14, I have been receiving violent threats to my life and body, and I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me by the accused persons. The content, which even includes my photograph, is evidently threatening to my life and body and I fear for my safety as well as that of my family members. The content also maligns my reputation based on a news article and I am subjected to name-calling, cyber bullying and eve-teasing online.”

Even if this were true, teasing and name calling should not be criminal offenses. But, even more to the point, why is Tiwari being blamed for the action of others. He just posted a post, citing the WSJ article, and criticizing Das. Das has all the power in the world to simply... respond on Facebook (the company which she works for).

As the Committee to Protect Journalists notes, this is absurd. Das should drop these claims and apologize. I certainly recognize the impossible position Facebook is put in with regards to content moderation, and completely understand that there are multiple tradeoffs at play in how Facebook chooses to handle moderation of politicians around the globe. But none of that justifies taking out a criminal complaint. And Facebook's response here is utter nonsense:

A Facebook representative told CPJ via email that the social media outlet takes the safety and security of its employees seriously, but said it does not comment on individual employee matters.

Sure, the complaint was taken out by Das, not Facebook, but Das is a representative of Facebook and this action reflects directly on the company.

Tiwari has now filed a counter complaint back against Das, which is not a great look either. His argument now is sort of the mirror image of Das's, saying that since news of her criminal complaint has come out, he has faced threatening comments as well.

It seems like this is just a typical internet-style flame war, except the participants all think the police should be involved and their critics should go to jail. And that's crazy. Take a breath everyone, drop the criminal complaints, and move on.

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Filed Under: abuse, ankhi das, awesh tiwari, bjp, content moderation, criminal complaint, free speech, harassment, hate speech, india
Companies: facebook

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  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Aug 2020 @ 3:22pm

    OK, the question I have is: How is this different from the Byrdsong anecdote posted previously (up, that is, until the instant of the actual murder)?

    I think this is one of those examples of the Strong Masnick Theorem: "Sometimes moderation is impossible at ANY scale." The India[na] government is no more effective than Snarkbook or Goggle at doing the impossible. "Herd Harder" isn't even on a path to any conceivable solution.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Mike Masnick (profile), 19 Aug 2020 @ 5:21pm


      There are different standards for governments v. private companies.

      I think that's a key point.

      But here the issue isn't even so much India's gov't and its content moderation so much as an employee of FB making a filing a criminal complaint.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

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