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India Journalism Tech

In India, Facebook Fears Crackdown on Hate Groups Could Backfire on Its Staff

That’s the headline on my newest story, an exclusive with my colleague Jeff Horwitz, out Sunday. It begins:

Dozens of religious extremists burst into a Pentecostal church outside New Delhi in June, claiming it was built atop a Hindu temple. The group installed a Hindu idol in protest, and a pastor says he was punched in the head by attackers.

Members of a Hindu nationalist organization known as Bajrang Dal claimed responsibility in a video describing the incursion that has been viewed almost 250,000 times on Facebook. The social-media company’s safety team earlier this year concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India and likely qualified as a “dangerous organization” that should be banned from the platform, according to people familiar with the matter.

Facebook Inc. balked at removing the group following warnings in a report from its security team that cracking down on Bajrang Dal might endanger both the company’s business prospects and its staff in India, the people said. Besides risking infuriating India’s ruling Hindu nationalist politicians, banning Bajrang Dal might precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel or facilities, the report warned.

Such conflicting concerns underscore the struggle Facebook faces in policing hate speech that exists in the vast sea of content posted to its platform around the world. The calculus is especially complicated in India, Facebook’s largest market by users. Facebook has staff on the ground, recently invested $5.7 billion in a new retail venture and interacts with a government whose politicians have ties to Hindu nationalist groups.

“We enforce our Dangerous Individuals and Organizations policy globally without regard to political position or party affiliation,” said Facebook spokesman Andy Stone, calling the company’s process for determining what entities to ban careful, rigorous and multidisciplinary.

Click through to read the rest.

Links to our previous stories on Facebook in India, if you missed them, are here:

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook’s WhatsApp Gets Green Light to Expand Mobile Payments in India

That’s the headline on my latest story, out Friday. It begins:

Regulators in India granted Facebook Inc.’s WhatsApp permission to expand its digital payments service, a win for the company after a delay of nearly three years in its largest market by users.

The National Payments Corporation of India, or NPCI, said late Thursday that WhatsApp can bring the service to a maximum of 20 million users. That is up from the one million cap that has been in place since the encrypted messaging platform in February 2018 began offering payments via its app in a trial service, the first of its kind.

“I’m excited to share today that WhatsApp has been approved to launch payments across India,” Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg said in a video provided Friday by the company. The service, which is free, enables users to connect their bank accounts to the app and easily send money to one another, just as if they were sending a typical chat.

Still, WhatsApp remains far from making the functionality available to all of its more than 400 million users in India. The NPCI said WhatsApp can start with a maximum of 20 million users—which would be about 5% of WhatsApp’s total user base in the country.

Click through to read the rest.

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India Journalism Tech

Facebook’s Top Public Policy Executive in India Steps Down

That’s the headline on my newest story, out Tuesday. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. executive in India who was at the center of a political storm over the company’s policy on anti-Muslim hate speech on the platform is leaving her position Tuesday, the social-media giant said.

Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in its biggest market by users, said in an internal post provided by the company that she had decided to step down to pursue her interest in public service.

The Wall Street Journal reported in August that Ms. Das had opposed applying Facebook’s hate-speech rules to a politician from the ruling Hindu nationalist party, along with at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence, according to current and former employees.

Following the article’s publication, Indian lawmakers questioned Facebook officials, while the company’s staff pushed internally for a review of how it handles problematic content.

Click through to read the rest.

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Newley's Notes

NN233: Dogs in restaurants

Sent as an email newsletter Wednesday, September 9. Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi friends,

Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Photo of the week, above: table for four, Hong Kong. Spotted on a recent evening.

🆕 If you missed it, my latest story on Facebook and India, out Thursday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz: Facebook, Under Pressure in India, Bans Politician for Hate Speech. It begins:

Facebook Inc. banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies against hate speech, amid a growing political storm over its handling of extremist content on its platform.

The removal of the politician, T. Raja Singh, is an about-face for the company and one that will be politically tricky in India, its biggest market by number of users.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, Ankhi Das, had opposed banning Mr. Singh under Facebook’s “dangerous individual” prohibitions. In communications to Facebook staffers, she said punishing violations by politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party could hurt the company’s business interests in the country.

And a re-cap of our previous stories on the topic, if you missed them:

🚨 Administrative note: There will be no NN next week. I’ll be back the week of September 20.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

📪 1) The U.S. presidential election is in 55 days. Many people are expected to submit their ballots by mail due to Covid–19. Here’s a rundown of how to vote by mail in every state.

👨‍💻 2) Silicon Valley tech firms are finding ways to help parents take care of their kids amid the pandemic. Childless workers say they’re being treated unfairly.

🌲 3) In Chicago, Amazon drivers are hanging their smartphones from trees near delivery stations to try to collect delivery orders faster.

🧘 4) Longread of the week: “The Eco–Yogi Slumlords of Brooklyn.”

🇸🇳 5) Senegal, “with a population of 16 million, has tackled COVID–19 aggressively and, so far, effectively. More than six months into the pandemic, the country has about 14,000 cases and 284 deaths.”

🎥 6) Netflix is making “The Three-Body Problem,” the popular trilogy of sci-fi books by China’s Cixin Liu’s, into an English-language series.

🙅‍♂️ 7) And speaking of Netflix, founder Reed Hastings is no fan of working from home. “Not being able to get together in person, particularly internationally, is a pure negative,” he told my WSJ colleague, Joe Flint, in an interview.

👏 8) Excellent Twitter thread: “Civil War generals as Muppets.”

🔉 9) Sounds of the Forest: “We are collecting the sounds of woodlands and forests from all around the world, creating a growing soundmap bringing together aural tones and textures from the world’s woodlands.”

🐕 10) Dog related video of the week: “Every morning at the same time a sweet stray angel visits this cafeteria to get her daily dose of love and food.”

•••

💡 Quote of the week:

“Progress, not perfection, is what we should be asking of ourselves.” – Julia Cameron.

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook, Under Pressure in India, Bans Politician for Hate Speech

That’s the headline on our newest story, out Thursday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies against hate speech, amid a growing political storm over its handling of extremist content on its platform.

The removal of the politician, T. Raja Singh, is an about-face for the company and one that will be politically tricky in India, its biggest market by number of users.

The Wall Street Journal reported last month that Facebook’s head of public policy in the country, Ankhi Das, had opposed banning Mr. Singh under Facebook’s “dangerous individual” prohibitions. In communications to Facebook staffers, she said punishing violations by politicians from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party could hurt the company’s business interests in the country.

Click through to read the rest.

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Newley's Notes

NN232: Extreme Zoomies

Sent as an email newsletter Tuesday, September 1. Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

Ginger napping

🐕 Photo of the week, above: Wednesday was National Dog Day. How can I not share this image of Ginger? As I noted on Instagram: Friday vibes.

🗞 Meanwhile: more on Facebook in India.

My latest, out Sunday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz: Facebook Executive Supported India’s Modi, Disparaged Opposition in Internal Messages. It begins:

A Facebook Inc. executive at the center of a political storm in India made internal postings over several years detailing her support for the now ruling Hindu nationalist party and disparaging its main rival, behavior some staff saw as conflicting with the company’s pledge to remain neutral in elections around the world.

In one of the messages, Ankhi Das, head of public policy in the country, posted the day before Narendra Modi swept to victory in India’s 2014 national elections: “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.”

The story has, like our previous piece (if you missed it: Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics), has been picked up by many media outlets and shared widely online.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) How Trump Sowed Covid Supply Chaos. ‘Try Getting It Yourselves.’ [WSJ]

🐖 2) Elon Musk’s Neuralink is neuroscience theater [MIT Technology Review]

📕 3) What Brings Elena Ferrante’s Worlds to Life? [New Yorker]

🔍 4) The Case of the Top Secret iPod [TidBITS]

🇨🇳 5) China makes its mark on the world of tattoos [Economist]

🌊 6) Jacques Cousteau’s Grandson Wants to Build the International Space Station of the Sea [Smithsonian]

🥮 7) Talented Italian Pastry Chef Incorporates Playful Dioramic Scenes Into His Beautiful Desserts [Laughing Squid]

🎸 8) 50 Reasons We Still Love Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited [Consequence of Sound] Thanks to my Dad for sharing this; I have had this album on repeat for about a month. I just can’t get enough of it. Timeless music for extraordinary times.

🐭 9) My new favorite YouTube channel: The Rat Review. In which someone…gives a pet named Theo snacks to “review.” Wheat Thins! Raspberries! Honey Nut Cheerios! Doritos Locos tacos!

👏 10) Dog-related video of the week: Professional zoomies [Reddit].

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

I have momentarily set aside Evan Osnos’s excellent “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China” for something a bit more escapist. I often read several books at once, so have turned to Stephen King’s “The Stand” – yes, it’s about survivors of a pandemic – and a fun yarn I picked up during a beach getaway in July: “Skinny Dip,” by the great Carl Hiassen. Loving both.

💡 Quote of the week:

“You are not a failure until you start blaming others for your mistakes.” – John Wooden

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Newley's Notes

NN231: Dustin’s self-administered belly rubs

Sent as an email newsletter Wednesday, August 19. Not a subscriber yet? Get it here.

👋 Hi, friends. Welcome to the latest edition of Newley’s Notes, a weekly newsletter containing my recent Wall Street Journal stories, must-read links on tech and life, and funny dog videos.

📰 Photo of the week: I had a page one story out Friday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It’s about Facebook and hate speech in India.

The headline: Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics. And the dek: “Company executive in vital market opposed move to ban controversial politician; some employees allege favoritism to ruling party.”

I shared some details in this Twitter thread.

The story was mentioned by the likes of the BBC, AP, Bloomberg, Reuters, and many news organizations in India.

🆕 And as we reported yesterday, lawmakers in India now want to question Facebook following our piece:

Opposition members of Parliament are acting following an article Friday in The Wall Street Journal that detailed what current and former Facebook employees said was a pattern of favoritism toward the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party and Hindu hard-liners.

Here are ten items worth your time this week:

🦠 1) Covid–19-related longread of the week: “A Deadly Coronavirus Was Inevitable. Why Was No One Ready?” This is a deeply reported story by my colleagues Betsy McKay and Phred Dvorak that provides the backstory on the pandemic.

👉 2) Another revealing deep dive: “The Three Abductions of N.: How Corporate Kidnapping Works,” by David Yaffe-Bellany in the New York Times.

🇮🇳 3) On Kamala Harris and the Indian-American community: “When Democrats next week formally nominate the daughter of an Indian immigrant to be vice president, it’ll be perhaps the biggest leap yet in the Indian American community’s rapid ascent into a powerful political force,” Fadel Allassan writes at Axios.

📖 Related book, which I wrote about in this post and recommend highly: “The Other One Percent: Indians in America.”

📱 4) Bring on the TikTok ban, says author and Columbia University law professor Tim Wu. “China keeps a closed and censorial internet economy at home while its products enjoy full access to open markets abroad. The asymmetry is unfair and ought no longer be tolerated. ”

💵 5) And speaking of TikTok: “Oracle is a new entrant in the negotiations for TikTok, whose owner ByteDance Ltd. is facing a fall deadline from the Trump administration to divest itself of its U.S. operations,” my WSJ colleagues report.

🎧 6) “The Addictive Joy of Watching Someone Listen to Phil Collins.” “For almost a year, Tim and Fred Williams, twenty-one-year-old twins from Gary, Indiana, have made videos of themselves listening to famous songs, and then uploading the videos to their YouTube channel.”

👗 7) Interactive of the week, from the New York Times: “Sweatpants Forever: Even before the pandemic, the whole fashion industry had started to unravel. What happens now that no one has a reason to dress up?

📼 8) “You can now rent the world’s last Blockbuster for a ’90s-themed slumber party.” Seriously. It’s in Bend, Oregon, and listed on Airbnb here.

🍁 9) Looks like an interesting documentary: “A Vermont Farmer.” Doug Densmore, a “third-generation maple syrup farmer to work the same sugarbush as his grandfather, runs what in Vermont is called a ‘bucket operation.’ Maple syrup is his only cash crop…” [Via Benedict Evans’s newsletter.]

🐕 10) Dog-related video of the week: “This Dog Scoots And ‘Sploots’ Every Morning.”

•••

📕 What I’m Reading

Still transfixed by Evan Osnos’s “Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth, and Faith in the New China.”

💡 Quote of the week:

“The best thing you can possibly do with your life is to tackle the motherf——- sh– out of it.” – Cheryl Strayed

•••

👊 Fist bump from Hong Kong,

Newley

Categories
Hong Kong Journalism Tech

Facebook, Twitter, Google Face Free-Speech Test in Hong Kong

That’s the headline on my newest story, with my colleague Eva Xiao, out Friday. It begins:

U.S. technology titans face a looming test of their free-speech credentials in Hong Kong as China’s new national-security law for the city demands local authorities take measures to supervise and regulate its uncensored internet.

Facebook Inc. and its Instagram service, Twitter Inc. and YouTube, a unit of Alphabet Inc.’s Google, operate freely in the city even as they have been shut out or opted out of the mainland’s tightly controlled internet, which uses the “Great Firewall” to censor information.

In Hong Kong many citizens have grown accustomed to freely using their accounts to speak out on political matters, voice support for antigovernment protests, and register their anger at China’s increasing sway over the city.

Now the U.S. tech companies face a high-wire act, analysts say, if authorities here ask them to delete user accounts or their content. Refusal could invite Beijing’s scrutiny and potentially put them at risk of legal action under the new national-security law. Complying would alienate longtime users in the city, some of whom continue to speak out on their platforms, and leave the companies open to criticism from politicians in the U.S. or U.K.

Click through to read the rest.

Categories
India Journalism

Inside Facebook and Private Equity’s $8.8 Billion Bet on India’s Richest Man

Facebook Jio

That’s the headline on my newest story, out yesterday. It begins:

Facebook Inc. and a trio of U.S. private-equity firms have in the past month poured billions of dollars into an upstart mobile operator controlled by India’s richest man.

The stakes, which add up to $8.8 billion, amount to a bet that Jio Platforms Ltd. and Mukesh Ambani, the chairman and largest shareholder of its parent company, Reliance Industries Ltd., are the players best positioned to bring legions of Indian consumers fully online and into e-commerce.

Facebook’s April announcement that it would invest $5.7 billion for a stake in Mumbai-based Jio was quickly followed by $750 million from Silver Lake and $1.5 billion from Vista Equity Partners. On Sunday, Jio said it was raising $870 million from another private-equity powerhouse, General Atlantic.

I also discussed the piece on an episode of our Tech News Briefing podcast. Click here to listen, or search for the show wherever you listen to podcasts.

Categories
India Journalism Tech

Facebook Takes $5.7 Billion Stake in India’s Jio Platforms

That’s the headline on my most recent story, out Wednesday with my colleague Jeff Horwitz. It begins:

Facebook Inc. said it would pay $5.7 billion for just under 10% of Indian telecom operator Jio Platforms Ltd., a massive expansion of the social media giant’s commitment to a promising market where it has faced difficulties.

The deal, unveiled late Tuesday, is Facebook’s largest overseas investment and gives it the opportunity to bring its WhatsApp messaging service—which has more than 400 million users in India—into closer partnership with the mobile operator that upended India’s telecommunications industry with cut-rate data plans.

Jio Platforms Ltd. and its subsidiary, mobile operator Reliance Jio Infocomm Ltd., are part of Indian conglomerate Reliance Industries Ltd. Jio Infocomm provides services to about 388 million customers.

The deal shows how Facebook, like other tech giants, is pushing ahead and taking advantage of its relative strength during a pandemic that is causing most other industries to retreat.

In a subsequent story, I looked a little closer at the who gets what out of the deal. The lede:

Facebook Inc.’s $5.7 billion tie-up with an Indian mobile leader could create a new kind of animal in the world’s biggest untapped digital market: a social media behemoth wedded to a mobile infrastructure titan—both coveting e-commerce.

Now the two companies are expected to square off against some formidable online shopping rivals: Amazon.com Inc. and Walmart Inc., which have each invested billions in the South Asian market.