As Scott Shane reports in this weekend’s New York Times Magazine, Facebook is making slow but steady progress in India, the world’s largest internet user country. India has resisted moves by Facebook and Twitter to host users and access data in the country because of concerns that it would have legal implications in their home countries. Although a Supreme Court injunction temporarily barred Twitter from the country in 2011, it has since been lifted and is now hosting about 140 million users.
In recent years, Facebook has increasingly turned to India for its more marketable users. It has been following through on its promise to take a “privacy-by-design” approach by boosting transparency about what personal data can be sold, and working to make sure data is used in a way that respects community norms. Facebook said it’s more than doubled the size of its R&D facility in Bengaluru and has hired 3,000 Indian employees worldwide.
But things may be getting a little bit out of hand in the world’s most populous country, according to senior Facebook India vice president Alok Goel, who wrote to police chief O.P. Singh in a letter published Sunday by the Times. Goel fears that anti-Muslim sentiments have been surfacing on Facebook-run social-media platform because of a recently installed feature that allows users to change their status to show they are on holidays, including the upcoming festival of Holi. Without her own police report to back her story, Goel is asking for the unit to investigate the matter and protect her against harassment.
The Times reports:
The viral discourse, as described by the Facebook official, referred to views on Facebook groups and social media postings. It began to stream in 2016 and gained popularity in the last six months, she said. The comments espoused Hindutva and Hindutva-related ideologies. They also linked Muslims and Hindus with each other, inciting unrest and conflict, in particular when Muslim daily newspapers highlighted accounts of assault on Hindus.
“Anti-Muslim incitement from Hindutva extremists on Facebook, through hate messages, hurts me and hurts the society,” Goel wrote to the law enforcement officer, the Times reported. “Please protect my life and my family.”
As Rashmi Sachdeva points out, India may be able to take only so much away from the most powerful technology companies in the world. Prime Minister Narendra Modi will move his own party to reform the country’s telecommunications laws, which would obligate telecom carriers to sell spectrum to competitors. Internet companies also still have to be regulated by the country’s information technology department, but those rules are sparse.