Facebook on September 21 announced the appointment of former IAS officer Rajiv Aggarwal as the director of public policy for India.
Rajiv Aggarwal’s resumé
Most recently, Aggarwal served as Uber’s Head of Public Policy for India and South Asia for just over a year. Before that, Aggarwal spent 25 years in civil services as an IAS officer. According to his LinkedIn profile, Aggarwal spent over 21 years as a Sub-Divisional Magistrate in Uttar Pradesh and 4 years as a Joint Secretary in the Department for Promotion of Industry and Internal Trade. In its press release, Facebook highlighted Aggarwal’s role in steering India’s first-ever national policy on Intellectual Property Rights (IPRs) and in the digital transformation of India’s IP offices.
“I’m thrilled that Rajiv is joining us to lead the Public Policy team. With his expertise and experience, Rajiv will help further our mission to build transparency, accountability, empowered and safe communities, all of which we recognize as our responsibility,” Ajit Mohan, Vice President & Managing Director, Facebook India, said.
A position that comes with a controversial history
The role of director of public policy has been under increased scrutiny ever since Wall Street Journal last August published an exposé accusing Ankhi Das, former Facebook India’s top public policy executive, of showing favouritism towards the ruling party of India.
Following BJP’s victory in the 2014 national election, Ankhi Das reportedly said “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.” Das also reportedly advised against the removal of some hateful content in order to avoid damaging the company’s business interests in India. Many other such instances where Das showed bias were also pointed out in the WSJ report. Facebook’s current and former employees said that such bias is “part of a broader pattern of favouritism by Facebook toward Mr. Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners” and that Das’s actions were in conflict with Facebook’s neutrality pledge.
After much pressure, Ankhi Das in October announced that she is stepping down as Facebook’s public policy director. Facebook immediately appointed Shivnath Thukral to Das’s role on an interim basis, but Thukral was reputed to have the same pro-BJP bias as her former boss. Thukral, for example, was involved closely with the BJP during its 2014 election campaign. He helped the party run a pro-BJP website and Facebook page. Thukral was later involved in making decisions about violations of hate speech rules during the 2019 elections.
There is nothing inherently wrong with hiring someone who has worked with the ruling party. It might be that they’re sought out by everyone because they are really good at what they do. The problem in this context was that the same people who are responsible for lobbying the government in favour of the company were also the people who decided what political content stayed on the platform.
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