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A look at some of Facebook’s run-ins with governments of other countries

Facebook has been embroiled in a major controversy in India, following a Wall Street Journal investigation that reported that Facebook refused to take down hate speech made by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) members for the fear of hurting its business interests in India. Facebook India’s public policy team has since attracted considerable attention and criticism.

The team, led by Ankhi Das, had chosen to ignore hate speech by Raja Singh, a BJP MLA from Telangana, and other party leaders. It suggested that Facebook might be taking political considerations into account while applying hate speech rules to prominent Hindu nationalists in India.

Opposition parties, including the Congress and All India Trinamool Congress (TMC), have since called for an investigation into Facebook India leadership. On Tuesday, the Congress wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking for a high-level enquiry and the subsequent report to be made public. Mahua Moitra, a TMC MP and a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, too demanded answers from Facebook.

This is, however, not the first time Facebook has gotten itself in trouble with a government. Over its 16-year-long existence, the company has attracted the attention of many a country for its actions and, equally importantly, their inaction. For instance, Facebook has been questioned for its role in the persecution of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, where the platform was widely used to spread hatred against the minority community.

In the United States of America, it has been subject to government scrutiny over issues such as the Cambridge Analytica data breach and its inability to control the spread of misinformation. Famously, Zuckerberg was summoned to testify before the senate on these issues in 2018.

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A few of the biggest cases of Facebook’s run-ins with governments and international organisations are summarised below:

Brazil court ordered blocking of accounts run by Bolsonaro

In one of the more recent cases, Facebook, along with Twitter, was used to spread misinformation against judges in the country. In July, Brazil’s Supreme Court ordered the take-down of 12 Facebook accounts and 16 Twitter accounts, all of which were operated by allies of the country’s president Jair Bolsonaro. The court order also forced Facebook to block access to said accounts globally. The company later said that while it would comply with the order, it would also appeal against it.

Earlier in July, Facebook announced that it had banned 33 Brazil-based accounts, 14 pages and a group, all of them linked to employees of the offices of Bolosonaro and two of his sons, Eduardo and Flavio, for engaging in “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”.

USA: used as election interference tool in 2016

Facebook has been subject to increasing amounts of criticism for its inability to control fake news in the country, especially since the 2016 presidential election. 

The platform was reportedly used as a tool for Russian interference in the run up to the election. The Internet Research Agency (IRA), a Russian company bought several social media ads supporting the Trump campaign and criticising his opponent, Democrat nominee Hillary Clinton.   

In 2018, Zuckerberg was summoned by the country’s Senate in connection with the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The British consulting firm had harvested data of more than 50 million Facebook users without their consent. The firm was employed by the presidential campaigns of president Donald Trump, senator Ted Cruz and secretary of urban housing Ben Carson

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Myanmar: used to incite hatred against Rohingyas, UN probe showed

Persecution and crackdowns by the Myanmar government have led to a mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims, residents of the state of Rakhine, to flee the country. In 2018, a team of United Nations investigators found that Facebook had been used to whip up hatred against Rohingya Muslims. 

Facebook was, however, unable to take down hate speech in the country, largely because it did not have enough content moderators who knew Burmese. This led to a large scale proliferation of such content on the platform.

Marzuki Darusman, who headed the UN’s fact-finding mission on Myanmar, had said that social media had contributed to acrimony and conflict within the public. Referring to the widespread usage of Facebook in Myanmar society, he had also said, “As far as the Myanmar situation, social media is Facebook and Facebook is social media.”

Facebook later admitted that it hadn’t done enough to prevent the platform from being “used to foment division and incite offline violence”. 

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