Facebook has banned an outspoken right-wing Indian politician for spreading hate speech about Muslims as the social media giant battles accusations of bias over its handling of rival parties in the key market.
T. Raja Singh, a regional lawmaker for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party, was blocked “for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform,” a Facebook spokesman said.
An “extensive” process was followed in making the decision to block Raja Singh, the spokesman added.
Raja, who made headlines for reportedly saying that Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar should be shot, will now be put on a Facebook list of “dangerous individuals”.
Raja told AFP he would fight the ban and that Facebook’s action was an attack on Modi’s Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
“They (Facebook) are targeting the BJP through me,” Raja Singh said, calling the ban “absolutely wrong”.
“It’s an intentional move against the BJP,” he said.
Facebook has been caught in the middle of accusations of bias from rival sides in India’s feverish political battlefield. India is the American firm’s biggest market in terms of number of users.
Opposition parties said it favours the BJP after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook public policy Ankhi Das refused to take down anti-Muslim comments by Raja Singh because it could damage the company’s business interests.
The Congress party said there was a “blasphemous nexus between the BJP and Facebook”.
India’s communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg this week however saying the company was against Modi and his party.
Prasad accused Facebook of trying to influence Indian politics through “gossip, whispers and innuendo” against the ruling party.
According to Raja Singh, his account was hacked when he was quoted as saying that Rohingya Muslims should be shot. But he told AFP that he stood by comments calling for all Rohingya to be expelled from his home state of Telengana.
The fiery politician said he would demand that Facebook let him use an official account.
“If others open an account in my name and upload my videos, what will Facebook authorities do then? How many such accounts will they ban?”
However, sources in the company said Raja Singh would not be allowed any presence on the platform or on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook.
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The sources said Facebook will remove pages, groups and accounts set up to represent Raja Singh. It would also remove material from events when it is known that Raja Singh will participate.
Digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa said Facebook was facing pressure to crack down on radical individuals and entities behind incitement to violence.
“If there was hate speech, our expectation is Facebook should curtail that hate speech. But at the same time, why isn’t it our expectation that law enforcement agencies should prosecute that person?” he told AFP.