Facebook India’s policy head resigns after political bias allegations

By Rahul Vaimal, Associate Editor
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The top Indian lobbyist Ankhi Das has left social media giant Facebook, months after reports indicated the way the social media network controlled political content in its largest market and favored the ruling party of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Ms. Ankhi’s resignation comes weeks after both the company and she faced questions, both internally from employees and from the Indian government, over how political content is regulated on the popular social media platform, which boasts over 300 million users in the country.

The company said in a statement that Ms. Ankhi, who was Facebook’s public policy head for India, South & Central Asia, had decided to step down to pursue her interest in public service.

Facebook and Das faced criticism from left-leaning opposition lawmakers after reports suggested that she had resisted extending hate-speech restrictions to some Hindu nationalist individuals and organizations, fearing harm to Facebook’s business prospects.

Facebook India head Ajit Mohan had defended her and the company’s policies in an internal community post after the reports became a controversial topic.

The issue also prompted Facebook employees to question whether adequate content regulation policies were being followed in India, leaving the company fighting a political and public relations crisis.

Ms. Ankhi was considered one of India’s most influential corporate lobbying executives and, since joining the company in 2011, was central to the rise of Facebook in the country.

“She has been the most influential public policy professional among multinationals in India,” said Prasanto Roy, an Indian technology policy analyst who advises global tech companies. “She steered Facebook’s direction in India. This exit is a big deal.”

Most recent reports suggest that Shivnath Thukral, WhatsApp India’s current public policy director, has been asked to take over Facebook’s policy head duties on an interim basis until a replacement can be found.

India is a vital market for Facebook as it has over 300 million users in the country.

The departure of Ms. Ankhi comes as Facebook is preparing, along with other technology firms, for strict new regulations India is drafting on data storage and privacy, which industry executives claim could severely affect international companies.