There are over 100 million Facebookers in India, leaving the country second only to the U.S. in overall users, and poised to lead the pack of countries using the social network by 2017. Yet Facebook is struggling to keep pace with the complexities presented by the vast, multilingual and culturally diverse Indian market.
Recent incidents occurring on the social media platform within the space of a few days show how Facebook is losing the war against rampant misogyny, child abuse, nude content and even the recent ‘original name’ policy the social network proudly enforces globally.
Siding with the misogynists?
Preetha G Nair, a social media activist, has been the subject of a massive cyber-bullying campaign.
On July 19, Preetha wrote a post complaining about a misogynist remark made by G. Sudhakaran, a member of a political party in Kerala, India. In response, many of Sudhakaran's party followers reported Preetha's Facebook page as fake amid a bombardment of personal attacks on her led by Davis Thekkekara, Sudhakaran's political ally.
Preetha's account was duly suspended by Facebook, who cited ‘community standards’, only reinstating the account upon verifying that she was in fact not in the wrong. When on returning to the social network she spoke out against the politics of Dr. APJ Abdul Kalam, India's 11th president, who died on July 27, Preetha was once more singled out based on her gender and subjected to a massive online attack.
A new Facebook profile subsequently appeared depicting her as a prostitute and featuring images of her friends and children as well as nasty stories with explicit sexual content. Many fellow Facebook users reported the profile and filed written email complaints with the Kerala Cyber Cell, the official website of the Kerala police.
But the Kerala police have not responded, while those reporting the issue to Facebook receive a standard message that the pages do not violate Facebook community standards. As of August 2, the fake profile was still online and active.
In support of capital punishment?
Elsewhere on Facebook, people were protesting the July 30 hanging of convicted terrorist Yakub Memon, whose capital punishment one prominent Indian journalist wrote “exposed [people's] hunger for the macabre”.
On July 31, anti-hanging pages, also in the Malaylam language, were taken down by Facebook immediately while users associated with the pages had their accounts frozen.
Anivar Aravind, an internet freedom activist, began a Twitter campaign against Facebook's policies using the hashtag #FoE. After a few hours, the frozen accounts were reinstated.
Sudheesh Sudhakaran, an active Facebooker, whose account was suspended amid the hanging controversy wrote:
ഇതിന്റെ അര്ത്ഥം ഫേസ്ബുക്കിന്റെ കമ്മ്യൂണിറ്റി സ്റ്റാന്ഡേര്ഡ് എന്ന് പറയുന്നത്, വധശിക്ഷയെ അംഗീകരിക്കുന്ന ഒന്നാണെന്നും അതിനെ എതിര്ക്കുന്നവരെ പുറത്താക്കും എന്ന് വേണമല്ലോ മനസ്സിലാക്കാന്. ഫേസ്ബുക്ക് ഇന്ത്യ ഈ നാട്ടിലെ മജോരിട്ടെരിയന് പോളിട്ടിക്സിന്റെ മനുഷ്യത്വരഹിതമായ വികാരങ്ങളെ പരിപോഷിപ്പിച്ചു ഫ്രീഡം ഓഫ് എക്സ്പ്രേഷനെ തടയുന്നു എന്നല്ലേ ?
This clearly shows that Facebook Community standards are driven by people who support Capital Punishment and through them Facebook is only supporting right wingers who have no value for human rights or freedom of expression.
Whose Facebook is this?
Any person who knows how to read in the Malayalam language can understand that Preetha G Nair is being subjected to massive online abuse.
Simultaneously a simple protest against the decision of the Indian government to hang a convicted terrorist was taken as a violation of Facebook's “community standards”. This poses a question: who is monitoring Indian Facebook pages?
For women, who constitute a majority of Facebook users in India, this question is particularly important. The platform has undoubtedly helped them voice their opinions on public issues in a way that society sometimes does not allow. But that progress is being rolled back by vicious online attacks Facebook seems unable or unwilling to police. Facebook is an increasingly unsafe place for Indian women.
Sheeja Rajagopal, a PhD research Scholar from Chennai, commented:
This speaks volumes about Facebook's community standards (whatever that means). Harassing a woman using derogatory language and using her pictures doesn't violate any of Facebook's policies or standards. Posting a woman's pictures on a public page without her consent and using abusive language seems acceptable to Facebook.
Maya Leela, a Spain-based linguist and activist, stood behind Preetha:
അവഹേളനങ്ങള് പ്രീതയോടൊപ്പം വളരെ വ്യക്തിപരമായി ഞാനും ഏറ്റു വാങ്ങുന്നു. ഒരു സ്ത്രീയെന്ന നിലയില് മറ്റൊരു സ്ത്രീയ്ക്ക് സംഭവിക്കുന്ന ഒരു ദുരിതവും എന്റെതും കൂടെ അല്ലാതാവുന്നില്ല.
Preetha is my friend. The attackers who are Malayalee men are threatening that they are going to post nude pictures and videos of Preetha […] The videos and pictures of Preetha will carry my face too. I am also receiving all the insults and abuse Preetha is being subjected to. Whatever happens to someone of my gender (woman) is happening to me also.
Arya Prakash, a student, vented:
Not that I'm surprised, but I'm fuming with anger. What the fuck are these community standards if they cannot take down a page that's nothing but purely abusive in nature and totally harassing a woman using her photos and other personal details? Facebook should review its community standards before it reviews other pages.
Meanwhile, the creators of the page have received over, 1,000 likes and have challenged the Kerala Police to find them, while also threatening further hacks on Preetha's account.
They also issued a threat to the people reporting them on their page:
സൈബര് സെല്ലില് ധാരാളം കമ്പ്ലയിന്റ് പോയിട്ടുണ്ട് എന്ന് അറിയാം അയാം വെയിറ്റിംഗ് പണി പാമ്പ് ആയി പരാതി കൊടുത്തവര്ക്ക് വരാതിരിക്കാന് നോക്കുക
Whoever has complained to the police will have to suffer the consequences.
But amid the online violence and Facebook's inaction, a hopeful culture of solidarity is growing. Preetha's friends are posting messages of support and defiance under the hashtag #പ്രീതക്കൊപ്പം, or #standingwithpreetha.