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Meta Adopted Policy to Censor Canadian Facebook Posts About Assassinated Sikh Leader, Emails Show

Emails show Meta executives confirmed company-wide policy to take down posts mentioning assassination of Canadian Sikh leader

Meta adopted an internal policy to remove Canadian Facebook and Instagram posts that mention the name of a Canadian Sikh leader immediately following his assassination outside a gurdwara in Surrey, British Columbia in June 2023.

Emails from company executives obtained exclusively by PressProgress show Meta’s internal review teams regularly censored posts mentioning Sikh leader Bhai Hardeep Singh Nijjar in the weeks following his murder.

In fact, Meta specifically censored posts from Canada’s largest Sikh organization calling on the Canadian authorities to investigate the assassination as well as “the role of foreign interference, specifically from India.”

Some Canadian Facebook and Instagram users who had their posts removed and accounts suspended received notices from Meta that their posts had been flagged by authorities in India.

Earlier this week, a number of Sikh Facebook users in BC shared that posts related to Nijjar were being blocked by Facebook and their accounts suspended.

On Monday, ​​Prime Minister Justin Trudeau told the House of Commons that Canadian security agencies are pursuing “credible allegations” that “agents of the Government of India” were involved in the assassination of Nijjar in Surrey, BC this summer.

However, prior to this announcement, the World Sikh Organization (WSO) had multiple posts blocked and their account restricted for posting a press release regarding Nijjar’s death.

World Sikh Organization (Instagram)

 In June, a press release from the WSO about Nijjar’s death was removed from Instagram for being in “violation of its terms.”

The release called Nijjar’s assassination a “failure of Canadian intelligence agencies.”

WSO received a notice that their post violated Meta’s “community standards on “dangerous individuals and organizations,” adding, “we also added restrictions to your account because you didn’t follow our standards multiple times.”

World Sikh Organization (Instagram)

 Internal emails obtained by PressProgress from June 2023 between the WSO’s legal counsel and Meta’s Canadian Head of Public Policy, Rachel Curran, show that the issue was flagged by WSO’s legal counsel, inquiring as to why a press release would be taken down.

“That post has been removed as a ‘violation’ of terms on Instagram. I was hoping you could help us understand this decision and let us know how we can appeal. The press release itself didn’t have anything objectionable as far as we can tell,” a WSO legal counsel explained in the email.

Curran said that after escalating the WSO inquiry internally, she was informed that Nijjar was associated with a “designated terror organization.”

I escalated it internally and received the following response: ‘The person discussed in the press release, Hardeep Singh Nijjar, was associated with the Khalistan Commando Force. KCF is a designated Terror Org so we don’t allow Praise, Support, or Representation of it on platform’.”

Email from Rachel Curran to WSO

The emails show the WSO attempted to correct Meta’s misunderstanding of Nijjar’s affiliations, which they noted had been circulated by the Indian government.

“With all due respect, that explanation doesn’t really hold water. While the Indian Government has alleged he was the leader of the Khalistan Tiger Force (KTF), he denied this. Our post was a press release that called for a full investigation into his murder — it didn’t even mention the KTF, let alone engage in “praise, support or representation,” the WSO said in an email.

“This was the assassination of a Canadian citizen in Canada and has been covered by every major news outlet and our press release has also been featured as a part of the coverage. Censoring our press release makes absolutely no sense.”

“We have discussed censorship of Sikh voices on social media platforms in the past,” the email added. “This is taking things to a new and outrageous level where we can’t even post a press release expressing concern over a brazen assassination on Canadian soil.”

“At most, these posts make India unhappy as they challenge the Indian narrative.”

Curran replied that although she had “no more information to share,” she would “pass your comments along to our Dangerous Organizations and IG review teams for their info and analysis.”

Meta did not respond to questions about these emails despite initially responding and requesting additional information from PressProgress.

Another WSO Instagram post about censorship and freedom of speech was also restricted within India in response to a “legal request,” from the Indian government.

World Sikh Organization (Instagram)

 The notice stated that Facebook was ​​notified by the authorities under an emergency order pursuant to Section 69A of India’s Information Technology Act, 2000.

The Information Technology Act in India allows the government to block content “in the interests of the defence, sovereignty, integrity, or security of India or its relations with foreign states, public order, or the incitement of a cognisable offence relating to these categories.”

However, the Indian law is being used outside of the country’s borders, and enforced by social media companies.

“We have discussed censorship of Sikh voices on social media platforms in the past. This is taking things to a new and outrageous level where we can’t even post a press release expressing concern over a brazen assassination on Canadian soil,” The WSO elaborated in their email.

“Although many of our posts in the past have been restricted in India, this is the first time a post has been taken down completely, despite not violating any terms of use. At most, these posts make India unhappy as they challenge the Indian narrative.”

World Sikh Organization (Instagram)

 The WSO added that they hope the decision would be overturned.

“I’m hoping this decision will be overturned by IG. Failing that, I believe this kind of censorship is unacceptable and there is a public interest in exposing how legitimate Sikh voices are being silenced, likely at the behest of the Government of India.”

Moninder Singh, spokesperson for the British Columbia Gurdwaras Council (BCGC) said that Monday’s news comes as no surprise to the Sikh community, and the efforts on behalf of India to suppress Sikh voices has been happening for some time.

“There’s a lot of validation in this, that what we’ve been saying all along is true, that we’re not just making up conspiracy theories—that there’s a significant amount of truth to what the community’s been saying for decades,” Singh told PressProgress.

Singh adds that the suppression of Sikh voices on social media has been a running theme over the last number of years, and that India wields considerable power over platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

“They have a significant amount of influence, significant amount of money, significant amounts of power, where they can help dictate things that need to be blocked, information that needs to be blocked, and people tow the line,” Singh said.

“There’s this false expectation that these social media platforms are like these bastions of freedom of expression that they used to be. And now all these restrictions and restricted activity and blocks and things like that. I think the reality of those setting it on just the general population, not just the Sikh community.”

Meta did not respond to questions about these emails despite initially responding and requesting additional information from PressProgress.

 

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Rumneek Johal
Reporter
Rumneek Johal is PressProgress' BC Reporter. Her reporting focuses on systemic inequality, workers and communities, as well as racism and far-right extremism.

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