A letter from the Editor-in-Chief: A battle with Facebook and our overall struggles these days

Facebook, OpIndia

Dear Readers,

Let me start by explaining why I am writing this letter today and why I have decided to write these letters to you at least once a month. When I joined OpIndia we were an extremely small entity and therefore, the interaction with readers was not just regular but the conversations we had with our readers were far more personal and fruitful. As we grew, the line of communication between us and the readers began to diminish.

With social media as the only medium through which we connected, and social media being the vortex that it is, communication started to dwindle, messages began to get lost and the loop, at least from where I see it, ended up being completely broken. With the workload increasing and the resources mostly staying the same, every member of the team regularly works till the end of their tether.

These letters are hopefully, a new beginning, I know it might not facilitate a two-way communication logistically, but it is an attempt to have an honest dialogue with all of you and to genuinely attempt to keep you in the loop. Tell you what is happening internally, as much as possible. Tell you about our triumphs and struggles, if any. Alternate media does not have the luxury of sitting in an ivory tower, rightly so. Its very existence is meant to be an antithesis of legacy media that is opaque at best, dishonestly translucent at worst.

The last few months, I won’t lie, has been a bit of a struggle. As we grew, the expectations from us grew as well. On the one hand, it is a matter of pride. From a blog being run by freelancers we have managed to, in a short span of time, elevated ourselves enough for our readers to expect so much more from us. On the other hand, meeting the expectations are also a struggle considering the resources we have to meet them remain the same, more or less,

Think of it as a vicious cycle. We don’t know how to get more resources unless we do the things that need more resources.

While we struggle to figure the economics of it all, we made more enemies than we had bargained for. At least, more than I had bargained for. You see, I joined OpIndia because I loved to write and I had no idea when it snowballed into something far greater than me. I can’t speak for others, but I am sure several members of the team feel the same too. There are certain projects you take up for yourself and before you know it, it becomes a cause that must be upheld. That is what OpIndia is today.

While we continue to fight some cases in court, including one that has been filed by India Today, one by a has-been journalist that became a prestige case for us, one by a Jihadi and a couple of others, including the court case for my family and I were interrogated, another battle with Facebook has been brewing for weeks.

The OpIndia Hindi page is on the verge of getting unpublished and while we have been going back and forth with the Facebook team for weeks, a resolution has not been reached. And the reasons are petty and appear motivated on the face of it as well. As if, there is an invisible hand that has not only decided to curtail the reach of OpIndia but is also hell-bent on finding loopholes in their arbitrary, butterfly-esque standards to penalise those who they don’t agree with.

One of the posts that Facebook took umbrage to was a report that detailed how BJP workers were being brutally murdered in West Bengal in the worst form of political violence that we have seen recently. Why, you ask? Well, Facebook already disables the ‘instant article’ feature at whim for posts they might not like, politically or otherwise, but this time, they threw our featured image in our face.

The post Facebook took down

Why did Facebook remove a post that reported the death of a BJP worker who was found hanging from a tree? Why did Facebook think this post went against their community guidelines? Because they thought that the image of the article “promoted and glorified violence”. It did not. It was as a representational image that was used.. not the image of the actual victim and the actual crime. It had no face. It did not celebrate violence. It reported violence.

After a constant back and forth, all we got was a link by Facebook that contained the arbitrary guidelines to begin with. The robotic response perhaps shows how little they care about publishers who refuse to align with their political bias.

Facebook has also been doggedly hounding the OpIndia English page. Why? Because the “fact-checkers” who are empanelled with Facebook have decided that OpIndia needs to be silenced. With emails that read like they were written by a 13-year-old spoilt brat, Facebook and their ‘fact-checkers’ have joined hands to lie about and humiliate publishers they don’t align with.

To make matters worse, even if we give Facebook the benefit of doubt, they have no mechanism for publishers to reach out to Facebook directly. What publishers need to do, when these brats they have empanelled act out, is beg and plead the brats to understand why they were wrong.

After several meetings, emails and conversations where we urged Facebook to ensure that there is a mechanism where publishers could escalate grievances to Facebook itself instead of ‘fact-checkers’ who were politically motivated and biased. It fell on deaf ears.

Either way, the battle will go on. We will keep going back and forth and we will escalate the matter to authorities as and when we deem fit, but what we are now deeply aware of is that it has now become an Us vs Them fight. Perhaps it always was, but as we climb the latter, the realisation just becomes stronger. The intensity of the forces that we seem to be up against hit us like a ton of bricks, almost every week.

While all of this was on, a video of a lunatic calling us “bastard” emerged and I was suggested that perhaps approaching the NCW (National Commission for Woman) would be an appropriate response. Of course, based on blatant lies, the abuses flowed freely in that video. However, personally, I don’t think that is what we should do. NCW should be working for women who have been truly affected. Victims of domestic violence, women who are being threatened, women who have been disenfranchised etc. I will, personally and OpIndia as an organisation, always stand against using these institutions as a means to extract our pound of flesh.

We will fight. But we will fight with our dignity intact and our honour upheld.

So much more to say, but perhaps it is time to stop before what is meant to be a letter, becomes a long-winded rant.

Until next month.

Keep reading us. Keep supporting us. You are the only force that keeps us going.

Nupur J Sharma: Editor, OpIndia.com since October 2017