Facebook Executive Supported India’s Modi, Disparaged Opposition in Internal Messages

Internal communications from Facebook have emerged showing how VP of platform partnerships (APL) Josh Bertelsen moved to publicly criticize and discredit opposing views. Reuters obtained the emails and wrote, “In early February, Bertelsen circulated a controversial memo … It pointed to ‘Opposition + State Shakedown,’ … criticized Indian opposition members and politicians for using state resources to access Facebook and WhatsApp messages, and threatened that Facebook ‘will not stand’ for a ‘misinformation factory’ on its platform. The private views shared by top Facebook executives are unusual for a company facing rapid scrutiny over how it handles the sensitive data of its 2 billion-plus users.”

The memo, titled “Challenges Ahead for WhatsApp,” criticized that the Indian politicians preferred Facebook for the messages, even though WhatsApp said the users were free to remain on Facebook or to remain completely private on the platform.

Reuters reported, “The memo also argued that WhatsApp needed to address competition from local rivals such as Hike Messenger that were gaining traction, as well as government demands for censorship, the report said.”

The report noted, “The confidential memo, seen by Reuters, was circulated by Bertelsen among executives on his team, including in his role overseeing strategy for the global APL business, according to the source.”

Facebook should have taken steps to protect the privacy of its users after it was made aware of their misuse of private information in several states, government sources said.

“While the investigation has not identified the origin of messages in the ‘Opposition + State Shakedown’ memo,” the source said, “it did identify instances where in the course of government investigations, or during legal proceedings, the WhatsApp team was presented with evidence by the government and/or judicial officers — evidence that could have been the subject of the memo — indicating that there were possible violations of the law.”

Shortly after the emails were obtained, Bertelsen said the “novel idea” he referred to was “just a rough draft” and had since been revised. He posted on his public Facebook page, “The text I shared was not something I wrote, and it has since been updated.”

Update: Facebook has confirmed the authenticity of the emails and said that the company is “looking into the matter.”

Update: Facebook admitted that the article was not original. After seeing TechCrunch’s coverage, an editor from Business Insider, the publication in which the internal communications appeared to have originated, contacted the Verge, who in turn contacted TechCrunch. Editor in Chief Paul Carr confirmed that the emails were indeed from the Verge, and to be clear, the Verge did not initiate this story but did confirm that it had been sent to a reporter there. Though neither the Verge nor Business Insider contacted Bloomberg or Reuters in their initial contact with TechCrunch, the publication said that it also looked into Reuters’ reports and confirmed that it had been originally sent to Bloomberg.

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