Tuesday was the last day in office for Das, who had appeared before the Joint Parliamentary Committee studying the Personal Data Protection Bill only last Friday.
“Ankhi has decided to step down from her role in Facebook to pursue her interest in public service,” said Ajit Mohan, vice-president and managing director, Facebook India, in a statement on Tuesday. “She has been a part of my leadership team over the last two years, a role in which she has made enormous contributions.” Das was one of the earliest to join the US-based social media giant in 2011.
In August, The Wall Street Journal, citing former and current employees, alleged that Das — who was Facebook’s public policy director for India, South and Central Asia — opposed internal moves to apply hate-speech rules to a BJP politician and three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups for violating its standards, as that would hurt the company’s business prospects in India.
Mohan subsequently said in a blog post that the company was “open, transparent and non-partisan.” He also made it clear that the social media giant would continue to remove content posted by public figures in India whenever it violated its community standards.
Mission Largely Met: Das
The Wall Street Journal story sparked a political row, with Congress former president Rahul Gandhi and other opposition leaders claiming that Facebook was being controlled by the BJP in India, an allegation that senior BJP leaders were quick to rebut.
Das’ exit, however, does not have anything to do with the allegations of favouritism, a source in Facebook India told ET on condition of anonymity.
“I have decided to step down from Facebook after long service to its mission of connecting people and building communities, to pursue my personal interest in public service,” Das said in a statement. “We were a small, unlisted startup back then, guided only by our mission and purpose to connect people in India. After nine long years, I feel that mission has largely been met.”
WhatsApp India public policy director Shivnath Thukral will replace Das in the interim, the source said.
“I don’t want to speculate on why she left the company. If linked to some of the recent allegations against her and Facebook, it might be to signal that Facebook is attempting some form of course correction,” said Urvashi Aneja, founder-director, Tandem Research.
Aneja added that the harm that results from social media platforms such as Facebook must not be reduced or attributed to a single individual, but to broader company policies. “Unless these broader issues are addressed, the change in staffing of key positions may mean little. The issue is structural, not individual,” she said.
Facebook recently hired Sunil Abraham, co-founder of the Centre for Internet and Society, as its public policy director for data and emerging tech to shape the company’s stance on technology policy issues in India.
The Centre for Internet and Society is a policy and academic research organisation that focuses on accessibility, openness, access to knowledge, internet governance, digital humanities and telecom regulation.