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IIOJK in focus

Under India’s pressure Facebook allowed propaganda and hate speech thrive

Let Indian Army run campaign to malign Pakistan, Kashmiri journalists


San Francisco: Social media platform Faceboook under pressure by the Narendra Modi-led Indian government let propaganda and hate speech thrive in India and Indian illegally occupied Jammu and Kashmir, says an article by the Washington Post.

According to Kashmir Media Service, the article says that nearly three years ago, Facebook’s propaganda hunters uncovered a vast social media influence operation that used hundreds of fake accounts to praise the Indian army’s crackdown in occupied Jammu and Kashmir and accuse Kashmiri journalists of separatism and sedition. It says what they found next was explosive: The network was operated by the Indian army’s Chinar Corps, based in Srinagar.

The article says that when the US-based supervisor of Facebook’s Coordinated Inauthentic Behavior (CIB) unit told colleagues in India that the unit wanted to delete the network’s pages, executives in the New Delhi office resisted, faring fearing government backlash and legal consequences. It states that the top Facebook executives eventually ordered the fake accounts to be deleted, but the delay put Kashmiri journalists in danger.

“Those objections stave off action for a full year while the Indian army unit continued to spread disinformation that put Kashmiri journalists in danger. The deadlock was resolved only when top Facebook executives intervened and ordered the fake accounts deleted,” the article says.

“It was open-and-shut” that the Chinar Corps had violated Facebook’s rules against using fictional personas to surreptitiously promote a narrative, an employee who worked on the Kashmir project, told The Washington Post. “That was the moment that almost broke CIB and almost made a bunch of us quit.”

When Facebook’s US investigators first saw the posts from accounts that purported to be residents in Kashmir, it wasn’t hard to find evidence of a central organization. Posts from different accounts came in bursts, using similar words. Often, they praised the Indian military or criticized Pakistan and its closest ally, China. The technical information about some of the accounts overlapped, and the geolocation data associated with some accounts led directly to a building belonging to the Indian army.

The disinformation hunters also found that the fake accounts often tagged the official account of the Chinar Corps, showing that they were not putting great effort into disguising themselves.

The Washington Post notes that Twitter also changed its approach due to concerns about user growth and employee safety in response to Indian government pressure.

It says that Facebook eventually removed the Chinar Corps’ fake accounts but did not disclose the takedown to avoid embarrassing the Indian military. Twitter also quietly removed the Chinar Corps’ network but has stopped issuing summaries of its enforcement actions since December 2021, it adds.

The Kashmir case is just one example of how Facebook has fallen short of its professed ideals in India under pressure from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), says the article.

The article reveals that Facebook’s actions in India have faced scrutiny, particularly regarding its handling of content related to the Bharatiya Janata Party led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It says that India, with its large population and tech-savvy market, is an attraction for social media companies.

The article points out that the Modi administration’s influence over content moderation in India has set an example for authoritarian governments globally. It says Facebook’s reluctance to act against pro-government content in India was due to political sensitivities and fears of repercussions. It says the pro-government bias within Facebook extended beyond one executive, Ankhi Das, to a broader culture of treating India and its BJP government lightly.

In 2019, after damning media reports and whistleblower disclosures, Facebook’s parent company, now named Meta, bowing to pressure hired an outside law firm to assess its human rights performance in India. That probe found that Facebook did not stop hate speech or calls for action ahead of violence, including anti-Muslim riot in Delhi in 2020. Meta never published the document and issued a public summary that emphasized the culpability of “third parties.”

The Article reveals that Facebook continued to report takedowns of inauthentic networks in other countries but did not mention India in its quarterly report. It says concerns have been raised about the erosion of democratic norms in India, but the Biden administration has refrained from publicly criticizing the Modi government.

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