Under pressure from opposition parties for alleged political bias and handling of hate speech content, Facebook on Thursday said it has banned Bharatiya Janata Party Telangana MLA T Raja Singh from its platform and Instagram for violating its policy on content promoting violence and hate, even as the legislator from Telangana claimed that he had no account with the social networking site for over a year.
In a separate communication, Facebook also told the Congress that the company was non-partisan, denounces hate and bigotry in all forms, and strives to ensure that its platforms remain a space where people can express themselves freely. It was responding to the opposition party's allegation that the social media giant was soft on members of the ruling BJP while applying its hate speech rules.
'We have banned Raja Singh from Facebook for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform.
'The process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to this decision,' a Facebook company spokesperson said in a statement.
Facebook -- which counts India among its largest markets with over 300 million users -- has been in the eye of a storm after a Wall Street Journal (WSJ) report alleged that the social media platform's content policies favoured the ruling party in India.
The report had accused Facebook of ignoring posts containing hate speech by BJP MLA Raja Singh.
Since then, the ruling BJP and Congress have been trading barbs over the social media giant's alleged political bias.
Reacting to Facebook's action, Singh, the lone saffron party legislator from the southern state, claimed he did not have a Facebook account since April 2019 and that the pages the social networking site now banned might have been created by his followers.
He said he had written a letter to Hyderabad Police Cyber Crime department on October 8, 2018 that his verified official Facebook page was hacked.
In a brief statement, Singh said he again started a new page which 'was unpublished/ deleted in April 2019. So, Since April 2019, I'm not on Facebook itself, so no question of banning (me). Is Facebook working under the pressure of Congress'.
He also said that he will write to Facebook to open his official account.
"I will follow all rules and regulations to use it. I should be given the right to use Facebook account and I will
seek their permission," he said.
In a separate video message, Singh also alleged that leaders like Rahul Gandhi made false statements on social media paltforms against the BJP and Prime Minister Narendra Modi, and demanded that after thorough research, accounts of the Congress and the All India Majlis-e-Ittehadul Muslimeen parties should be deleted from social networking sites.
Meanwhile, responding to Congress' allegations, Facebook's Public Policy, Trust and Safety Director Neil Potts has said it has taken the party's charge of bias very seriously and will ensure that it remains non-partisan and is committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity.
The Congress accused Facebook of interfering in India's democratic process and social harmony and being soft on members of the ruling BJP while applying its hate-speech rules.
The Congress had written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after the WSJ and the Time magazine reports alleged 'biased' conduct of Facebook and WhatsApp India's leadership team and proximity with the ruling BJP.
'We take seriously the concerns and recommendations you raised on behalf of the Indian National Congress... First and foremost, we want to take this opportunity to state that we are non-partisan and strive to ensure that our platforms remain a space where people can express themselves freely. We take allegations of bias seriously and want to make clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in all forms,' Potts said in the letter, dated September 1.
In his letter to All India Congress Committee general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal, who had written to Zuckerberg twice, Potts said, 'on the question of hateful content by public figures, we want to assure you that our Community Standards prohibit attacks against people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, caste, ethnicity, and national origin. In line with our hate speech policy, we have removed and will continue to remove hateful content by public figures in India on our platforms.'
With the WSJ report triggering a massive political row, a Parliamentary panel had summoned Facebook representatives on Wednesday to hear their side regarding the alleged misuse of the social media platform.
On Tuesday, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had also written to Zuckerberg, accusing the Facebook employees of supporting people from a political predisposition that lost successive elections, and 'abusing' the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers.
According to sources, the decision to remove Singh from the platform was taken after an extensive process that the company follows in determining which individuals meet the criteria for policy violation and the work had been ongoing for some time to review Singh's actions.
The company had previously removed the content Singh had posted that violated its policies, including its hate speech policies, but the decision to ban Singh from the platform has been taken now, one of the sources said.
Post the ban, Singh has been designated under Facebook's dangerous individuals and organisations policy, and he will not be allowed to maintain a presence on the platform going forward.
As a part of the process, Singh will not be allowed on Facebook or its photo and video-sharing platform Instagram.
The company will remove pages, groups and accounts set up to represent him.
However, it will continue to allow a wider discussion of him, including praise and support.