On 29 April, scarcely 24 hours after Facebook briefly blocked briefly blocked The Guardian Facebook blocked hashtag calling for Narendra Modi to resign over pandemic Read more  users from sharing posts tagged #ResignModi, a diktat was issued to content moderators for short video app Moj. A WhatsApp message from a senior contract employee at Moj instructed moderators to remove content perceived as being “against” Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“Guys, we have to discard this type of content as it is against Modi,” the message read, a screenshot of which was seen by The Ken. The content in question was a video depicting a morphed image of Modi bowing before Saudi Arabia’s king, Salman bin Abdulaziz. Titled “Proud to be a Muslim”, the image was accompanied by the viral YouTube hit, “Miya Bhai”.

Receiving content moderation advisories over WhatsApp wasn’t a first for Moj’s 100-plus contract reviewers. But a directive implying special treatment for an individual was. A spokesperson for Mohalla Tech, the parent firm of Moj, said that Moj does not have any restrictions on posts critical of any government. However, the spokesperson, in an emailed response to questions sent by The Ken, said the platform does remove content it considers “dehumanizing of any individual”. 

Even as global social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter come under scrutiny—both from the government as well as users—Indian social media platforms have largely flown under the radar. The importance of platforms such as Moj and its sister app ShareChat in sharing information and influencing public discourse, however, is no less than their international counterparts.

Expressly catering to India’s regional language user base, ShareChat ShareChat The Ken The ShareChat phenomenon Read more and Moj have racked up a combined monthly active user base of 280 million. This dwarfs the estimated 210 million users Facebook-owned Instagram has in India. ShareChat alone has 160 million monthly active users—over 8X larger than the Indian user base of its investor, Twitter. Despite such a massive content ecosystem, however, little is known about how Mohalla Tech maintains decorum on its platforms.  

Billion dollar club

Mohalla Tech recently raised a US$502 million funding round from marquee investors such as Tiger Global and Lightspeed ventures, which valued it at over US$2 billion

The Ken spoke with insiders at both ShareChat and Moj to understand just how content moderation works on these platforms. These conversations, as well as a review of internal documents and communications, lay bare a process that remains a work-in-progress.

AUTHOR

Munsif Vengattil

Munsif keeps a tab on what Big Tech has been up to in India and all things OTT. He was with Reuters previously, where he wrote investigative pieces on Facebook’s content moderation operations and WhatsApp’s troubles in the run-up to India’s national elections. If you want to talk to Munsif about journalism, tech policy or his love for seekh kebabs, write to him at his first name @the-ken.com.

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