New Delhi: Despite an internal assessment calling for a ban on ‘dangerous’ Hindu nationalist group Bajrang Dal for its support to violence against minorities, Facebook has not cracked down on the group over financial and safety considerations, a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report said.
The tech giant fears action against Bajrang Dal could risk “infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians” and also hurt its business prospects in the country. A ban on the group could also lead to “physical attacks” against Facebook staff and facilities in the country, said the report published Sunday.
The company’s safety team concluded earlier in 2020 that Bajrang Dal “supported violence against minorities across India” and “likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform”, the report said.
However, Facebook “balked at removing the group” after a report from its security team warned that action against Bajrang Dal “might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India”.
The WSJ report said the matter represents the kind of “conflicting concerns” Facebook has to deal with when it comes to hate speech, especially in India.
The firm has major interests in the country — its largest user base — with “significant presence” on ground includes five offices, in New Delhi, Mumbai and others, and investments worth $5.7 billion in Reliance Jio, among others. Meanwhile, the company “interacts with a government whose politicians have ties to Hindu nationalist groups”, said the report.
It quoted Facebook spokesman Andy Stone as saying: “We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation”. Stone added that the process to determine what entities must be banned as “careful, rigorous and multidisciplinary”.
A Bajrang Dal spokesperson told WSJ that its members do not participate in illegal activities and have no “conflicts with other religious groups”.
Bajrang Dal-linked content on Facebook
According to the WSJ report, a video on Facebook viewed nearly 250,000 times had Bajrang Dal taking responsibility for an “incursion” from June of a Pentecostal church “outside New Delhi” alleging it was built on top of a Hindu temple.
The report said “dozens of religious extremists” were involved in the incursion and had “installed a Hindu idol in protest”.
The video had been posted by Jeet Vashisth, described as 21 years old and a district president for Bajrang Dal. “I and other Hindu brothers came here and forcefully re-established the temple,” Vashisth was quoted as saying in the video. But Vashisth denied assaulting any church officials.
The report said Facebook took down the video after WSJ asked the firm about it.
According to the WSJ report, Bajrang Dal is considered a “militant religious organization” by the US’ Central Intelligence Agency. Facebook communities devoted to the group “celebrate images of people beaten or killed for their alleged offenses against Hinduism”.
Facebook-owned analytics tool CrowdTangle shows there were over “5.5 million interactions” in 2020 from a “handful of groups and pages devoted to Bajrang Dal”.