It was not a long conversation. The conversation may have lasted for half an hour. She was patient at the other end. She was defending the algorithm. The algorithm in question removed a post of Ippodhu on its Facebook page. Mark Zuckerberg, Founder and CEO, Facebook, once told the world that the Facebook has got thousands of versions across the globe. He proudly said that he had empowered the engineers to understand user behavior in different geographical regions and play the game accordingly. The post removed was about the suicide of a farmer. The reason given was that the post might induce others to commit suicide. The argument I had with the relationship manager of Facebook was about the recurring removal of content related to farmers on the FB page of Ippodhu. The earlier removal was that of a video interview of Ayyakannu, the Tamil farmer-leader, who protested in Jantar Mantar, Delhi, against the anti-farmer regime of Narendra Modi. Facebook said it was “nudity”. I explained to Facebook that not wearing a shirt is not “nudity.”Ayyakannu does not wear a shirt. He wears a dhoti or a lungi. He does not cover his torso. He believes that a farmer of a tropical country such as India does not need a shirt. I may not agree with him completely. But I cannot force a shirt on him to suit the interests of Facebook. Facebook was not convinced. The relationship manager of Facebook was telling that the interview violated the community standards of the platform. The interview is never restored.
I am reminded of a conversation I had with the Editor of an English newspaper I worked for. I kept writing about the livelihood challenges of fishing communities in Tamil Nadu among other things. He told me that the fishing communities were not reading the newspaper. I told him that you and I eat fish and hence the effort to understand the lives of the communities who bring more protein to the lives of fellow human beings. He laughed at me. The relationship manager was loudly repeating that the algorithm never falters. She is convinced that the violater is Ippodhu. I told her that the day Facebook banned the page of Ippodhu for four hours was the day I wrote an Editorial condemning the raids on Prannoy Roy, the Founder of New Delhi Television. She listened and did not say a word. Suppression of information which is seen as being critical of the government and punitive action against good journalism have been a recurring feature of Facebook India. I am a votary of Mark Zuckerberg’s idea of creating an open and connected world. I understand that the systems and processes of a larger global corporation require political patronage. I appreciate the fact that Facebook had the courage to remove the hate speech of the BJP leader Kapil Mishra who orchestrated the Delhi pogrom of February 2020 along with Satya Pal Singh and others.
Politics is the Art of the Possible. It is the people of India across the political divide who form the audience for Facebook. Yes, the money spent by the IT cell of BJP is useful to some extent for the sustenance of Facebook India. I understand that. I also spend money and time on Facebook. That also matters for both politics and business in India. The relationship managers maybe trained togo beyond the algorithms and create long-lasting conversations on sustaining Facebook India. The vibrancy and robustness of Facebook comes from its founding vision of bringing people closer together. If the idea of partitioning of minds and hearts is allowed to dominate its function in India, it may not serve its ideal goals.