Facebook non-partisan, politically neutral: India chief Ajit Mohan

Facebook India Head Ajit Mohan has defended the handling of alleged hate speeches by members of the ruling BJP, saying the platform has remained true to its design of being neutral and non-partisan and acted based on inputs from various teams.

In an interview with PTI, Mohan rejected charges of Facebook India’s decisions being influenced by political leanings of individuals, saying the process followed at the platform is designed to ensure no one person can influence outcomes, let alone take any unilateral decisions.

“The content policy of team that is at the centre of all the enforcement decisions (on hate speeches) is separate and independent in India from the public policy team (that handles government relations),” he said. “It’s designed for independence.”

And the content management team is guided by only community standards. “And enforcement of that has to be objective, has to be non-partisan and neutral. I think that goes to the heart of how the platform has been designed from day one,” he asserted.

Individuals can have “points of views” or “leanings”, the “system is designed to make sure no one person can influence the outcomes,” he said.

“And so the answer is yes,” he said replying to a question on whether Facebook is a non-partisan and politically neutral entity.

The comments come amid a political storm over a report published in the Wall Street Journal last month, alleging the social media giant ignored extremist posts by ruling Bharatiya Janata Party leaders to protect its business interests in India.

According to the report, Facebook deleted anti-Muslim posts by BJP’s Telangana MLA T Raja Singh and three other Hindu nationalists only after being questioned by the paper. Facebook’s head of public policy Ankhi Das, the report said citing company employees, had opposed the deletion of the posts despite being flagged internally as breaching standards.

Facebook earlier this month banned the 42-year-old Telangana MLA, categorising him as a “dangerous individual”.

Mohan said there are no limits to respectable standard for free speech within and outside the company.

While there are people from multiple political leanings and backgrounds in the company, Facebook values people of experience in government or in public service.

“But at the same time, I think it is important to call out to you that the content policy of a team that is at the centre of all of these enforcement decisions is separate and independent in India from the public policy team here. It’s designed for independence. So the public policy team that engages with government, for example, central and state governments, is a part of my team. That is separate from the content policy team which is part of the global team,” he said.

“So, I think the point is while people can have points of view, they can have leanings, the system is designed to make sure no one person can influence the outcomes, let alone have any unilateral decision making power on this aspect. The separation in India context tells you how design is meant for independence,” he said.

Mohan said the content moderation is largely done through automated systems and human reviewers.

In dealing with complex issues such as designating individuals, especially elected officials, the content policy team comes into play.

“The public policy team does seek inputs from multiple functions and disciplines and teams including public policy team in India. That is not interference. That is the process, that is being designed to have enough local context from the local team,” he said. “But finally the decision that is taken is not taken by the public policy team.”

“So you have the opportunity in certain cases like designation, from multiple local and international teams, to provide a point of view that is by design. But it is not for them to take any unilateral decision. That still goes through the content policy team,” he said.

Facebook has over 300 million users in India, while its associate WhatsApp is the leader in messaging with over 400 million users.

In April this year, Facebook invested USD 5.7 billion to buy a 9.9 per cent stake in Jio Platforms, the digital arm of energy-to-telecom conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd owned by India’s richest man Mukesh Ambani.

Mohan said Facebook has an impartial approach to dealing with content and that this is governed strongly by its community standards. These policies are enforced globally without regard to anyone’s political position, party affiliation or religious and cultural beliefs, he emphasised.

“That is the basis and enforcement of that has to be objective, has to be non-partisan and neutral. I think that goes to the heart of how the platform has been designed from day one. It goes to the heart of something all of us embrace, that we have to be neutral, we have to be non-partisan,” he added.

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Bernell Trammell death: Milwaukee shooting victim’s memory stays alive

He ‘gave freedom to everyone’s voice’: A week after shooting death of Bernell Trammell, friends keep his legacy alive

Sophie Carson
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Published 12:00 AM EDT Aug 1, 2020

Bernell Trammell spent his life starting conversations.

He loved hearing what passing strangers had to say. Trammell eagerly sought out discussion — on sidewalks, homemade signs in hand, and through submissions to his publication, eXpressions Journal.

“Everybody has a voice. Everybody’s voice has power,” longtime friend Pia Lombardi recalled Trammell saying.

When he was shot and killed last week outside his Riverwest office, Trammell’s own voice was silenced, Lombardi said.

But at a vigil for him Friday, his memory and message remained vibrant. Friends recalled his good nature and willingness to chat, and neighbors said the city lost an irreplaceable local character.

“Milwaukee, the east side, Riverwest — we’re going to miss him. Because he was very vocal,” said neighborhood resident Alicia Williams. 

Because Trammell was outspoken about religion and politics — and supported President Donald Trump — some suspect he was targeted for his beliefs. Prominent conservatives have called for a federal investigation into his death, and the suspicion of a political motivation made national news and gained traction on social media.

Lombardi said she even received an invitation to appear on commentator Laura Ingraham’s Fox News show.

Milwaukee police have not released any information about possible motives for the killing.

Trammell also carried signs supporting the Black Lives Matter Movement and state Sen. Lena Taylor, a Democrat.

Those who knew Trammell said they don’t know why he was killed and can’t understand why anyone would shoot him. More than a week after his death, they don’t have any answers. Police have asked the public’s help in looking for a suspect in the shooting and have offered a cash reward for tips. 

Malcolm Hunt, a chaplain for the Milwaukee Police Department, speaks and prays for his friend Bernell Trammell during a memorial vigil.
Rick Wood / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Nate Fox of Milwaukee called Trammell a “gentle beast” who was genuinely interested in hearing different perspectives.

About 15 years ago, Fox used to see Trammell around Riverwest, dressed in a leather jacket and leather chaps.

“He didn’t look like a very approachable guy,” Fox laughed. “But if you would actually have a conversation with him you would see that he’s genuine, that he would hear you out.”

Fox, an atheist at the time, started going to Trammell with questions about religion. He didn’t know many Christians, and Trammell never judged him, he said.

Eventually Fox converted to Christianity. He credits Trammell for those early eye-opening conversations that challenged his stereotypes on what people of faith looked and acted like.

Trammell “gave freedom to everyone’s voice,” said Clayton Hotelling, a Milwaukee pastor and social worker. “It didn’t matter where you were from.”

In the 1990s Hotelling used to read eXpressions Journal and even submitted his artwork to the publication a few times. He appreciated that Trammell gave a platform to opinions of all kinds without judgment — the willingness to hear someone out has been lost in today’s political discourse, he said.

Hotelling was driving with a friend on the east side two days before Trammell’s death and saw him on the sidewalk holding a Trump sign. Hotelling honked his horn, and Trammell gave them a thumbs-up.

“It touched our heart because that was the last time we saw him,” Hotelling said.

Bernell Trammell of Milwaukee takes a photo with his cellphone while with son, Bernell Trammell Jr., 7, at a control burn at Alice Bertschy Kadish Park in Milwaukee on May 7, 2013. Trammell was fatally shot outside his office in Riverwest on July 23, 2020.
Mike De Sisti / Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Patricia Holland also saw Trammell shortly before his death — she estimates about 30 minutes prior.

Holland maintains church gardens in Riverwest and headed last Thursday to Trammell’s shop to plant some flowers in his new flower beds. She left him laughing, promising to water the plants that evening.

Then from her home Holland heard what she thought were firecrackers. She followed police cars to the scene and saw paramedics performing CPR. But she knew Trammell hadn’t made it.

“A whole chill came over me,” she said.

Trammell deserves for his killer to be found, Holland said. Somebody in the neighborhood knows something, she said, pointing to the surrounding apartments and homes.

And Trammell deserves for his legacy to live on. Lombardi, who lived with Trammell in the 1990s in the apartment above his office, plans to buy the building on East Wright Street. 

She wants to continue publishing eXpressions Journal. Trammell’s voice may have been silenced, but he’d want Milwaukee to keep talking.

Contact Sophie Carson at (414) 223-5512 or scarson@gannett.com. Follow her on Twitter at @SCarson_News.

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