T Raja Singh, a regional legislator for Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, has previously made headlines for reportedly saying that Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar should be shot.
Facebook has banned an outspoken right-wing Indian politician for spreading hate speech about Muslims, as the social media giant battles accusations of bias over its handling of rival parties in the key market.
T Raja Singh, a regional lawmaker for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's ruling party, was blocked "for violating our policy prohibiting those that promote or engage in violence and hate from having a presence on our platform," a Facebook spokesman said.
An "extensive" process was followed in making the decision to block Raja Singh, the spokesman added.
Raja, who made headlines for reportedly saying that Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar should be shot, will now be put on a Facebook list of "dangerous individuals."
He said he would fight the ban and that Facebook's action was an attack on Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.
"They (Facebook) are targeting the BJP through me," Raja Singh said, calling the ban "absolutely wrong."
"It's an intentional move against the BJP," he said.
Hate speech against Rohingyas
According to Raja Singh, his account was hacked when he was quoted as saying that Rohingya Muslims should be shot. But he said that he stood by comments, calling for all Rohingya to be expelled from his home state of Telengana.
The fiery politician said he would demand that Facebook let him use an official account.
"If others open an account in my name and upload my videos, what will Facebook authorities do then? How many such accounts will they ban?"
However, sources in the company said Raja Singh would not be allowed any presence on the platform or on Instagram, which is also owned by Facebook.
The sources said Facebook will remove pages, groups and accounts set up to represent Raja Singh. It would also remove material from events when it is known that Raja Singh will participate.
Digital rights activist Nikhil Pahwa said Facebook was facing pressure to crack down on radical individuals and entities behind incitement to violence.
"If there was hate speech, our expectation is Facebook should curtail that hate speech. But at the same time, why isn't it our expectation that law enforcement agencies should prosecute that person?" he said.
My official Facebook page has been unpublished / removed couple of days back @facebook may I know the reason.— Raja Singh (@TigerRajaSingh) April 1, 2019
Facebook accused of allegiances
Facebook India executives were grilled on Wednesday by members of a parliamentary committee on information technology over allegations of political bias and a role in spreading hate speech in India.
The social media giant has been caught in the middle of accusations of bias from rival sides in India's feverish political battlefield. India is the American firm's biggest market in terms of the number of users.
Opposition parties said it favours the BJP after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook public policy director, Ankhi Das, refused to take down anti-Muslim comments by Raja Singh because it could damage the company's business interests.
After a hearing that lasted three and a half hours, the committee “agreed to resume discussions later, including with representatives of Facebook," chairman Shashi Tharoor said in a tweet.
In response to overwhelming media interest in the meeting of the ParliamentaryStandingCommittee on InformationTechnology that just adjourned, this is all I can say: we met for some three&a half hours & unanimously agreed to resume the discussion later, incl w/ reps of @Facebook.— Shashi Tharoor (@ShashiTharoor) September 2, 2020
The Congress party said there was a "blasphemous nexus between the BJP and Facebook."
India's communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg this week, however, saying the company was against Modi and his party.
Prasad accused Facebook of trying to influence Indian politics through "gossip, whispers and innuendo" against the ruling party.
India is Facebook’s largest market with nearly 328 million users. Facebook also owns WhatsApp, which has more than 400 million users in India.
As usage has spread across India, Facebook and WhatsApp have become fierce battlegrounds for India’s political parties. Leaders of Modi’s Hindu nationalist party have come under scrutiny for running online campaigns laced with false claims and attacks on the minority Muslim population.
Modi's party and its leaders have repeatedly denied the allegations and instead accuse Facebook of censoring pro-India content.