Facebook’s top policy official in India, Ankhi Das, stepped down from the company on Tuesday following reports this summer by TIME and the Wall Street Journal that detailed links between senior Facebook staff and India’s ruling party.
A Facebook spokesperson told TIME that Das’s departure “has nothing to do with the parliamentary inquiry or the media reports.”
“Ankhi has decided to step down from her role in Facebook to pursue her interest in public service,” said Ajit Mohan, managing director of Facebook India, in a statement.
Das, one of the most senior Facebook staff members in India, was one of several people involved in internal conversations about whether posts by politicians violated Facebook’s rules, including on hate speech, and how to act. But Das had also shared an anti-Muslim post on her personal Facebook account, according to a Journal report in August, and had celebrated the 2014 victory of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in national elections. (“These posts are taken out of context and don’t represent the full scope of Facebook’s efforts to support the use of our platform by parties across the political spectrum,” Facebook said at the time.)
TIME understands that Shivnath Thukral, WhatsApp’s public policy director, has been asked to take over Das’s duties on an interim basis until a replacement can be found.
In August, TIME reported that Thukral, one of Das’s key lieutenants at the time, had walked out of a meeting in 2019 when an activist had raised concerns about a post by a BJP state lawmaker who suggested Muslims were rapists. The post remained online for more than a year after the meeting, until TIME contacted Facebook to ask about it. (Facebook told TIME the post had been flagged as hate speech internally at the time, but did not explain why they had failed to remove it.)
Thukral also worked on behalf of the BJP during the party’s 2014 election campaign.
The TIME and Journal reports led to Das being summoned to give evidence to an Indian parliamentary committee. Instead, Mohan attended and gave evidence on Facebook’s behalf in the closed-door session.
TIME also revealed that Facebook has commissioned a human rights impact assessment to consider the impact of Facebook on human rights in India. Facebook did not immediately respond to TIME’s questions about whether Das’s departure would change the scope of that assessment in any way.
“I have decided to step down from Facebook after long service to its mission of connecting people and building communities to pursue my personal interest in public service,” Das said in a statement.
“When I joined Facebook in 2011, internet growth in the country was woefully low and I often wondered how social and economic asymmetries will be addressed. We were a small unlisted startup back then guided only by our mission and purpose to connect people in India. After nine long years, I feel that mission has largely been met. There is an enormous amount I have learnt from incredibly smart and talented people in the company, particularly from people on the policy team. This is a special company and a special group of people. Thank you, Mark for creating something beautiful for the world. I hope I have served you and the company well. I know we will be in touch on Facebook.”
Dia Kayyali, an activist who coordinated an open letter from more than 40 NGOs in September calling on Facebook to fire Das, told TIME: “Ankhi Das leaving Facebook should be recognized as what it is– the result of sustained organizing by human rights defenders and civil society. This is a win for everyone who has been affected by Facebook’s refusal to moderate content that directly leads to offline violence.”
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