How Facebook is implicated in India's Islamophobia epidemic

An iphone with a facebook login screen is seen with a striked out facebook logo
7 min read
05 September, 2022

On July 14, the same day that Meta unveiled its human rights report from 2020-21, a Netherland-based watchdog released its study of hate speech on Facebook in India.

The study revealed “extensive fan page networks using Facebook to widely amplify hate speech and calls to violence and genocide against Indian Muslims."

Netherland-based watchdog The London Story (TLS), which monitors misinformation and hate speeches, released “Preachers of Hate: Documenting Hate Speech on Facebook India” in response to Meta’s report which failed to release its full report on the Human Rights Impact Assessment (HRIA) in India.

The global social media platform released only a four-page summary of the full report, with the summary broadly condoning its own behaviours, moderation and policies.

"The TLS report, which monitored 634 pages on Facebook as of April 2022, found that Meta has failed to act against hate content and hateful actors targeting minorities in India"

The Meta report also declared that “this summary cannot be construed to endorse, accept or adopt the independent assessor’s conclusions, recommendations or analysis”.

In a series of tweets, the TLS slammed Meta for hiding Facebook’s human rights impact in India.

Talking to The New Arab, Dr Ritumbra Manuvie, Executive Director at The London Story, described the summary as “a cover-up", noting that “the summary report simply underlines Meta’s indifference towards minorities in India”.

TLS report on hate speeches

The TLS report, which monitored 634 pages on Facebook as of April 2022, found that Meta has failed to act against hate content and hateful actors targeting minorities in India.

The London Story report focused on the fan page network supporting three Hindu nationalist men – Hindu priest Yati Narsinghanand, far-right anchor Suresh Chavhanke (and Sudarshan News Network) and far-right journalist Pushpendra Kulshrestha.

Narsinghanand is facing several FIRs (First Information Reports) for his vitriol. Historically, he has been jailed for calling for genocide against Muslims in India.

Chavhanke, who runs a news channel named Sudarshan News, regularly airs Islamophobic content, propaganda and hate speeches against Muslims.

Kulshrestha often participates in Islamophobic news debates and discussions.

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The fan pages which support Hindu nationalists are “used as tools in an unprecedented manner to incite violence and rallying vigilante mobs."

Genocide Calls

The report identified hate content on these pages under three categories:

First is content that calls for the elimination of Muslims. It covers threats and calls for genocide against Muslims. These include videos of public speeches of which the police have taken criminal cognisance for incitement to violence.

Citing the instances of genocide calls, the report pointed to a video from 2019, which has been viewed more than 32 million times, in which Narsinghanand says in Hindi: "I want to eliminate Muslims and Islam from the face of the earth".

In another video shared among the fan pages, Narsinghanand states: "Jihad will have to be removed from the entire world, it is like cancer. Even if one cell of Islam remains, it will spread even more and be dangerous."

A protestor draws an illustration on the road during a demonstration against rise in hate crimes and anti-Muslim violence in New Delhi [Getty Images]
A protester draws an illustration on the road during a demonstration against rising hate crimes and anti-Muslim violence in New Delhi [Getty Images]

In another video viewed 24.000 times, Hindu priest Kalicharan Maharaj calls to act against Muslims, viewing them as societal cancer. Kalicharan has been charged with sedition for this speech, but the video is still available on Facebook, said the report.

The second is xenophobic content against Muslims. It covers content that views Indian Muslims as a threat to the Hindu population and dehumanises the community by using labels such as "land jihadis" and "love jihadis". One video claims that "Islam is not a religion, Islam is a gang of organised criminals".

The third type of content is mobilising Hindus against Muslims. It includes calls for Hindus to join speakers in the fight against Muslims, to buy weapons, and content glorifying violence for the sake of the "Hindu Rashtra" (Hindu nation).

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Facebook-BJP Links

Dr Manuvie, who is also a lecturer of Law at the University of Groningen in The Netherlands, told The New Arab that several of these pages are associated with local workers of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The Hindu nationalist party, which is in power, has been accused of tacitly encouraging violence against Indian Muslims throughout its rule. 

“Political likeness of these pages are towards the BJP ecosystem, as several of the pages are that of local level karyakartas of BJP,” said Dr Manuvie.

According to the report, these contents are receiving massive interactions on Facebook as the social media platform failed to apply its hate speech policies against them.

"Meta should be asked why they are failing to act against anti-Muslim hate speeches. In my opinion, this comes from indifference towards human rights and human dignity, as well as Meta's willingness to exert political clout with the BJP government"

“Between 1 January 2019 and 31 December 2021, the monitored fan pages received a total of 160 million interactions, with 48.7K interactions on average daily. Pages within the actor-fan network consistently show a surge in interaction for inflammatory content,” noted the report.

The content and activities on these fan pages fall under content prohibited under Meta’s community standards as Meta’s community standards prohibit content supporting violence, dehumanising speech, content making generalizations of inferiority, content advocating for segregation or exclusion, and more, against people on the basis of protected characteristics, such as religion.

“Facebook fails to implement its own hate speech policy rationale, even when we reported content,” said the report.

Public spaces where one can assert their Muslim identity openly are shrinking in India, including online [Getty Images]
Public spaces where one can assert their Muslim identity are shrinking in India, including online [Getty Images]

Dr Manuvie described Meta’s responses to hate speeches on Facebook in India as “deeply troubling” and generally “non-existent”.

“Meta should be asked why they are failing to act against anti-Muslim hate speeches. In my opinion, this comes from their indifference toward human rights and Meta's willingness to exert political clout with the BJP government,” she said.

Several reports have exposed Facebook’s links with the BJP and its failure to act against the hate speeches made by the BJP leaders.

In 2019, a Wall Street Journal report exposed that a senior Facebook executive Ankhi Das was a supporter of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and made disparaging remarks against the opposition parties.

In March this year, an Al Jazeera report revealed that the social media platform has violated Indian laws to favour the BJP in its election advertisement policies. 

Dr Manuvie, from India, said she has engaged with Meta’s US headquarters since 2020. She had asked them to remove some Islamophobic content such as the Covid Jihad post but she faced their “PR shenanigans and delaying tactics”.

“I spoke to people in the Menlo Park Headquarters of Facebook (in the United States). We send our reports and recommendations to them, as this is the team which makes and alters the policy (unless of course something recently changed in Meta’s functional processes that Meta doesn't care to transparently tell people about),” she said.


She told The New Arab she was called by Meta and was asked to speak with their team in confidence, but she refused. 

“With regard to this particular report, I was phone-called to engage in a bilateral ‘confidential communication’ with one of the senior persons in the policy team (again not India team, but global). I refused confidentiality or bilateral communication because my stand on this is well known – ‘the Global South can speak for itself, and Meta should not use its behaviour to create a power caucus. Have public consultations which are ‘public’ or don’t have them. But you will not sit in your Menlo Park Office and gag us, whilst simultaneously telling us how useful your platform is for our communities,” said Dr Manuvie.  

Waquar Hasan is a journalist based in New Delhi. He covers human rights abuses and hate crimes in India.

Follow him on Twitter: @WaqarHasan1231