Are Facebook’s community guidelines selectively policing anti-government content?

30 January 2019
Activists critical of the government are being deliberately silenced on Facebook.
Shahid Tantray For The Caravan
Activists critical of the government are being deliberately silenced on Facebook.
Shahid Tantray For The Caravan

On 25 July 2018, Unofficial PMO India, a Facebook page which then had 2,51,000 followers and regularly uploaded memes against the current NDA government, ran afoul of the social media platform’s community standards—a set of rules that “outline what is and what is not allowed on Facebook…and apply around the world to all types of content.” The page’s troubles began after it uploaded a collage of a picture of Prime Minister Narendra Modi pinching the ears of a child, juxtaposed with an image of Adolf Hitler in a similar photo op. The image was removed by Facebook within hours of uploading and the page followed soon after. The page is run by Farza, a friend who is based out of Mumbai, and three other people. Just after the page was pulled down, Farza called me in a panic. He was worried that with the image and page gone, his personal account would be next in line. A few hours later, the personal profiles of all the page administrators, including Farza, were suspended for 30 days. “What to do?” Farza asked me, in another emergency call from miles away. I did not have a clear answer.

For years now, every week I receive similar panic calls from Facebook users whose accounts have been suspended for violating unspecified aspects of the community standards. Every such call was from users who posted content against the Narendra Modi government and its ideological associates. Since 2015, I have documented every call I received to understand whether these are all mere coincidences on account of faulty algorithms or if there is an agenda to Facebook’s suspensions. The duration of suspensions ranged from one to thirty days, and in a handful of cases, even more. There was no clarity on what content attracted what duration of suspension.

After three years of tabulating this data, a pattern has emerged. All the suspended profiles I dealt with were barred on the pretext of enforcing Facebook’s community standards. As I noticed recurring patterns, I tabulated a majority of the suspended profiles into three categories of Facebook activity—upload of memes against Narendra Modi; protests against the ruling government’s policies; sharing content which comes under the previous two categories. In all cases, no clear reason was ever provided as to which post broke the community rule or which community guidelines were not adhered to. These clarifications were not provided even after the profiles were reinstated.

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    Inji Pennu is a digital activist and technologist.

    Keywords: ankhi das Facebook Narendra Modi Shruti Moghe fake news hate speech Adityanath Kavita Krishnan
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