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Facebook's New Terms Can Legally Censor Posts, India MD Answers Political Bias Concerns

Shouvik Das
·3-min read

Facebook has updated its terms of services, notifying users of a change in the way it approaches the censoring of an article and in turn impacting its overall content moderation policy. After being under heavy scrutiny following media reports about heavy bias or inaction with regards to sensitive topics, Facebook is seemingly alerting users about a shift in its content moderation stance. The shift is actually major, since it signifies a departure from the vehement determination shown by founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg in staying away from making a political statement through its platform.

The update to Facebook’s policy on content moderation is reflected in its new set of legal terms that will come in effect from October 1, 2020. The key postulate in Facebook’s legal content moderation terms reads, “We also can remove or restrict access to your content, services, or information if we determine that doing so is reasonably necessary to avoid or mitigate adverse legal or regulatory impacts to Facebook.”

ALSO READ | CPI(M) MP Writes to Shashi Tharoor, Demands Probe into Alleged FB-BJP Nexus

Facebook further states, “If we remove content that you have shared in violation of our Community Standards, we'll let you know and explain any options you have to request another review, unless you seriously or repeatedly violate these Terms or if doing so may expose us or others to legal liability; harm our community of users; compromise or interfere with the integrity or operation of any of our services, systems or Products; where we are restricted due to technical limitations; or where we are prohibited from doing so for legal reasons.”

Facebook’s update to its terms of service coincidentally comes on the same day when Facebook’s India managing director, Ajit Mohan, faced a parliamentary committee headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor to answer questions of political bias by the platform. Earlier this year, during the Black Lives Matter protests, Facebook found itself in the middle of a difficult debate when it chose to not censor US president Donald Trump’s violence inciting post on the platform. More recently, an article by The Wall Street Journal alleged that Facebook has been offering a biased stance on political and hate content in India, and much of the bias is driven by the personal political views of its employees. It is this article that prompted a host of political reactions by both the ruling party and the opposition.

ALSO READ | IT Minister Writes to Mark Zuckerberg, Accuses Facebook of Political Bias amid Row over Content

While the Congress-led opposition has underlined Facebook’s failure to remove anti-Muslim posts on the platform, members of the ruling party have also posed allegations of Facebook being driven by personal bias of employees. Amit Malviya, head of Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP)’s IT cell, has alleged that Mohan, who presently heads the company’s India operations, was a part of erstwhile UPA governments, and hence has strong ties to the government. BJP MP Nishikant Dubey has further accused Shashi Tharoor, chairperson of today’s parliamentary committee hearing Mohan and Facebook India’s views on the allegations, to be using the platform to further his own political agenda.

In many ways, Facebook’s update to its terms of services may be seen as a response to the present situation the company finds itself in. A Facebook spokesperson was yet to respond to News18’s request for a comment on the matter, at the time of publishing. Facebook’s new content policy may sound like it would stifle or censor anti-government voices, and a far cry from its CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s original, apolitical stance.

However, it presently appears to safeguard the actions taken on its platform, and shield itself from allegations of employee bias that are presently ravaging the platform. Going forward, it remains to be seen how much further might Facebook’s approach towards the use of its platform gets affected, in light of the socio-political tensions in two of its biggest markets – India and USA.