Top Facebook executive in India files criminal complaint against a journalist for sharing news report

Ankhi Das, a top Facebook executive in India, has filed a criminal complaint against a journalist who she alleges attempted to defame her in a public Facebook post and made “sexually coloured remarks.”

A review of the journalist Awesh Tiwari’s post, written in Hindi (the most widely spoken language in India), finds that it was merely summarizing a recent WSJ report, which was critical of the way Das oversaw enforcement of Facebook’s hate-speech policies on some posts.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India, had opposed applying the company’s hate-speech rules to a member of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party.

The report said that posts from at least three more members of BJP individuals and groups were flagged internally for “promoting or participating in violence.” Punishing those violations by politicians from Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Das said of those posts, according to the report, which cited current and former employees.

The article erupted a discussion on social media with several Indian politicians — both from Modi’s BJP party and the opposition Congress — criticizing one another and also Facebook for political biases. Several users also tweeted and submitted posts on Facebook criticizing Das’ decision.

On Monday, she filed a criminal complaint with the cyber unit of the Delhi police against a handful of users, including journalist Tiwari for posts that, she alleged, insulted and intimidated her, and made sexually coloured remarks.

Except, in the case of Tiwari, his post only summarizes WSJ’s report and shares some background information on Das that is in the public domain. WSJ, or its parent firm (News Corp), or its reporters are not named in Das’ criminal complaint with the police.

Tiwari told Indian news outlet Newslaundry that the Facebook executive’s action was curbing his freedom of speech on Facebook.

If charged and convicted, Tiwari and others stand to face fines and up to two years in prison for sexual harassment, up to two years for defamation and up to seven years in prison for criminal intimidation, according to the local law.

The Committee to Protect Journalists called on Das Wednesday to withdraw her complaint against Tiwari and respect citizens’ rights to criticize her. In a conversation with CPI, Tiwari claimed he had received 11 phone calls from strangers who threatened him with lawsuits, physical harm and imprisonment ever since his name in Das’ complaint emerged.

Facebook, a company apparently committed to freedom of speech, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Reuters reported on Wednesday that a handful of employees have written a letter asking Facebook to denounce “anti-Muslim bigotry” posts from BJP politicians that Ankhi Das protected and shared herself on the platform.

In a comment posted internally to employees, Ajit Mohan, the head of Facebook in India, said the company was confident that the WSJ article’s claim about political affiliations influencing decision making in India is “inaccurate and without merit,” Reuters reported.

Facebook has yet to offer any evidence to dispute the claims made in the WSJ report — and has not disputed them at all in its statements to news outlets. In its public statements, Facebook has said it is making “progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits.”