Facebook Inc's top India lobbyist Ankhi Das has quit, months after a newspaper report suggested the way the social media network regulated political content in its biggest market by users who favoured Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party.
The company said in a statement that Das, 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 drew criticism from left-leaning opposition lawmakers after The Wall Street Journal newspaper in August reported that she had opposed applying hate-speech restrictions to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, fearing damage to Facebook's business prospects.
After the article, Facebook India head Ajit Mohan defended Das and the company's policies in an internal community post.
The matter also prompted Facebook employees to question whether proper content regulation policies were being followed in India, leaving the company battling a public relations and political crisis.
Das was considered among India's most influential corporate lobbying executives and had been central to Facebook's rise in India since joining the company in 2011.
Facebook's statement said Das was one of its "earliest employees in India, and played an instrumental role in the growth of the company".
"She has been the most influential public policy professional among multinationals in India," said Prasanto Roy, a New Delhi-based technology policy analyst who advises global tech companies.
"She steered Facebook's direction in India. This (exit) is a big deal."
India is a critical market for Facebook. India is a critical market for Facebook, where it has more than 300 million users.
Facebook has chosen WhatsApp’s public policy director Shivnath Thukral to take over Das's position.
Though no official confirmation has as yet arrived, reports suggest that Thukral, will replace his former boss. His appointment will be in keeping with Facebook and other social media platforms' trend to work more closely with political analysts, researchers and policymakers to represent their platforms in order to work more in tandem with the nations' policies.
Shivnath Thukral is not a newcomer to Facebook. In fact, he worked for two years as Facebook’s public policy director for India and South Asia until March 2020 and reported directly to Ankhi Das, the public policy head for India, South & Central Asia. A former journalist, his main job was to act as a lobbyist under Das in order to ensure the company's smooth dealings with the government. Having worked as a journalist for fourteen years with NDTV, Thukral is not just a corporate hack. He has held the position of Managing Director at foreign policy think tank the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in India. He has also served in a leadership position with Essar Group before. He was signed on by Facebook in July 2017 and in 2020 was appointed the Public Policy Director for Facebook-owned WhatsApp.
While Thukral has several professional accolades, he has also been named by the TIME magazine as one of Ankhi Das's "top lieutenants". In August, when TIME first reported on the alleged misuse of power within Facebook India, the report had mentioned Das, who was one of the persons in charge of reviewing politicians' posts in case of violations, as having walked out of a meeting when an activist raised objections about a an inflammatory post. The post in question was by BJP MLA from Assam, Shiladitya Dey, and had called "Bangladesh Muslims" rapists. Despite being brought to their attention, Facebook let the post remain on the platform for well over a year until a Wall Street Journal investigation led to outrage and the subsequent removal of several such hate posts by powerful persons.
According to the report in Time magazine, Thukral has worked for the BJP's digital campaigning in 2013-14, in the run-up to the 2014 elections.
Inputs: Reuters, News18, Agencies