Mr. Zuckerberg: Commercial Interests At The Cost of Human Lives?

Open Letter to Mark Zuckerberg, CEO, Facebook

Mr. Zuckerberg: Commercial Interests At The Cost of Human Lives?

  Picture Courtesy: The Wire

Dear Mr Zuckerberg,

We are a group of former civil servants of India belonging to the All India and Central Services, who have worked, in the course of our careers, with the Central Government as well as different State Governments of India. As a group, we have no affiliation with any political party but believe in being neutral, impartial and committed to the Indian Constitution.

We have, in the past, written to the government and government institutions whenever we felt that the democratic rights of Indian citizens were being violated. We have not, so far, written to any non-Indian body.

We are writing to you now, in a departure from our usual practice, because certain actions (or the absence of certain actions) by Facebook in their operations in India have thrown into danger some of the fundamental rights of the people of India. Our attention has been drawn to this by an article in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) dated August 14th, 2020.

Most democratic countries assure their citizens of several basic rights and freedoms. Both the United States, the country of which you are a citizen, and India, do the same. Democratic rights can be adversely affected by hate speech, as you very well know. Which is why Facebook has made it part of its policy not to allow hate speech.

Facebook defines hate speech as a direct attack on people for characteristics such as “race, ethnicity, national origin, religious affiliation, sexual orientation, sex, gender or gender identity and serious disabilities or diseases.” Given this clear definition in your own policy, we are surprised that Facebook did not take action against some clear and serial offenders in India – persons like T Raja Singh and a few others – for their derogatory comments against people belonging to a different religion, accusing Muslims of spreading Covid 19, indulging in ’love jehad’ and various other misdemeanours. What is striking about Facebook’s leniency towards these persons is that all of them happen to be members of the political party in power. That Facebook did consider the posts to be offensive is apparent from the fact that these posts were deleted on Aug 17, after the WSJ wrote to Facebook seeking its comments.

We are dismayed to learn, again from the WSJ article, that the Public Policy Head of Facebook India consciously opposed applying Facebook’s hate speech rules to members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) because doing so would adversely affect the company’s business prospects in India.

Mr Zuckerberg, you surely cannot be unaware that religious unrest has become a serious problem in India.

The recently passed Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA), coupled with the proposed National Registry of Citizens (NRC), threatens to take away the citizenship of hundreds of thousands of Muslims and other minorities in India and put them in detention centres. You cannot also be ignorant of the communal riots that took place in Delhi in February 2020, in which 53 persons were killed, two thirds of them Muslims. Several cases of lynching and torture, primarily of Muslims and Dalits (oppressed castes and groups), have also occurred in India in recent years.

The majority of these are related to ‘cow vigilantism’, i.e. religious extremists resorting to violence in apparent efforts to protect cows from being illegally slaughtered. Many of these crimes have been instigated through hate speech spread through various communication channels, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter. Despite being aware of this, Facebook has failed to implement its own policy of discouraging hate speech in India, or has implemented it in a clearly partisan manner. That this seems to have been done to protect Facebook’s commercial interests is even more reprehensible.

We note that such behaviour on Facebook’s part has become a subject of debate in other countries as well. Commercial interests at the cost of human lives? If these are the crass calculations Facebook indulges in, it is no surprise that the calculus of hate is spreading like a virus in many parts of the world. To blame the algorithms of artificial intelligence is both to evade corporate responsibility and to deny the human agency involved in the framing of those very algorithms.

We are writing to you in the expectation that you will make serious efforts to audit the implementation of Facebook’s hate speech policy in India and, while such an audit is under way, ensure that the present Public Policy Head of Facebook, India, is not in a position to influence the investigations.

We also fervently hope that in future, you will not let your company’s business prospects stand in the way of implementing your own policy against hate speech and posts which can lead to hate crimes. This is a sure way of demonizing minorities and inflicting violence upon them while undermining the democratic and secular basis of the Indian Constitution.

Yours sincerely,
Constitutional Conduct Group


Salahuddin Ahmad IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
Shafi Alam IPS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Crime Records Bureau, GoI
K. Saleem Ali IPS (Retd.) Former Special Director, CBI, GoI
Vappala Balachandran IPS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Cabinet Secretariat, GoI
Gopalan Balagopal IAS (Retd.) Former Special Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
Chandrashekhar Balakrishnan IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Coal, GoI
Sharad Behar IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
Aurobindo Behera IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Odisha
Sundar Burra IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Maharashtra
P.R. Dasgupta IAS (Retd.) Former Chairman, Food Corporation of India, GoI
Nitin Desai IES (Retd.) Former Secretary and Chief Economic Adviser, Ministry of Finance, GoI
M.G. Devasahayam IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Govt. of Haryana
Sushil Dubey IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Sweden
K.P. Fabian IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Italy
Prabhu Ghate IAS (Retd.) Former Addl. Director General, Department of Tourism, GoI
Gourisankar Ghosh IAS (Retd.) Former Mission Director, National Drinking Water Mission, GoI
Suresh K. Goel IFS (Retd.) Former Director General, Indian Council of Cultural Relations, GoI
H.S. Gujral IFoS (Retd.) Former Principal Chief Conservator of Forests, Govt. of Punjab
Meena Gupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Environment & Forests, GoI
Wajahat Habibullah IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, GoI and Chief Information Commissioner
Siraj Hussain IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Agriculture, GoI
Brijesh Kumar IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Department of Information Technology, GoI
Aloke B. Lal IPS (Retd.) Former Director General (Prosecution), Govt. of Uttarakhand
Subodh Lal IPoS (Resigned) Former Deputy Director General, Ministry of Communications, GoI
Harsh Mander IAS (Retd.) Govt. of Madhya Pradesh
Lalit Mathur IAS (Retd.) Former Director General, National Institute of Rural Development, GoI
Aditi Mehta IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of Rajasthan
Sonalini Mirchandani IFS (Resigned) GoI
Noor Mohammad IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, National Disaster Management Authority, Govt. of India
Deb Mukharji IFS (Retd.) Former High Commissioner to Bangladesh and former Ambassador to Nepal
Nagalsamy IA&AS (Retd.) Former Principal Accountant General, Tamil Nadu & Kerala
P.G.J. Nampoothiri IPS (Retd.) Former Director General of Police, Govt. of Gujarat
Alok Perti IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Coal, GoI
M.Y. Rao IAS (Retd.)
Satwant Reddy IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Chemicals and Petrochemicals, GoI
Vijaya Latha Reddy IFS (Retd.) Former Deputy National Security Adviser, GoI
Julio Ribeiro IPS (Retd.) Former Adviser to Governor of Punjab & former Ambassador to Romania
Aruna Roy IAS (Resigned)
Manabendra N. Roy IAS (Retd.) Former Additional Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
Deepak Sanan IAS (Retd.) Former Principal Adviser (AR) to Chief Minister, Govt. of Himachal Pradesh
N.C. Saxena IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Planning Commission, GoI
A. Selvaraj IRS (Retd.) Former Chief Commissioner, Income Tax, Chennai, GoI
Ardhendu Sen IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary, Govt. of West Bengal
Abhijit Sengupta IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI
Aftab Seth IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Japan
Ashok Kumar Sharma IFoS (Retd.) Former MD, State Forest Development Corporation, Govt. of Gujarat
Ashok Kumar Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Finland and Estonia
Nav Rekha Sharma IFS (Retd.) Former Ambassador to Indonesia
Raju Sharma IAS (Retd.) Former Member, Board of Revenue, Govt. of Uttar Pradesh
Jawhar Sircar


IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Culture, GoI, & former CEO, Prasar Bharati
Narendra Sisodia IAS (Retd.) Former Secretary, Ministry of Finance, GoI
Parveen Talha IRS (Retd.) Former Member, Union Public Service Commission
Geetha Thoopal IRAS (Retd.) Former General Manager, Metro Railway, Kolkata
Hindal Tyabji IAS (Retd.) Former Chief Secretary rank, Govt. of Jammu & Kashmir