Rahul Gandhi shared the letter the Congress party wrote to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.(Reuters File Photo)
Rahul Gandhi shared the letter the Congress party wrote to Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.(Reuters File Photo)

BJP lashes out at Congress over social media hate speech row

A political slugfest between the Congress and the BJP began after a report in The Wall Street Journal claimed that Facebook ignored its hate speech rules when it came to posts by politicians of the ruling party.
By HT Correspondent | Hindustan Times, New Delhi, New Delhi
UPDATED ON AUG 19, 2020 04:36 AM IST

Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday launched an attack on the Congress over a row involving hate speech on the social media website, even as the opposition party wrote to the firm’s founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg to say the company may be “a willing participant in thwarting the rights and values”.

The BJP said that people whose political base has “shrunk like anything” seek to dominate discourse on these platforms and asserted that everybody regardless of their ideology got the right to air their views on the website. Prasad said Congress leader Rahul Gandhi believed that any organisation that did not work to his liking was acting under the pressure of the BJP and the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS).

A political slugfest between the Congress and the BJP began after a report in The Wall Street Journal claimed that Facebook ignored its hate speech rules when it came to posts by politicians of the ruling party.

The Congress on Tuesday wrote to Zuckerberg, saying the social media company may be “a willing participant in thwarting the rights and values” India’s founding leaders had sacrificed their lives for, and called for an investigation of the report that claimed its Indian staff was soft in handling hate speech by BJP politicians.

BJP leaders launched an angry riposte, saying the Congress and its leadership had been reduced to irrelevance and the demand showed a desire to muzzle free speech.

The WSJ report cited interviews with unnamed Facebook insiders and claimed the company’s senior India policy executive Ankhi Das intervened in internal content review processes to stop a ban on BJP’s Telangana lawmaker Raja Singh, whose posts targeted the Muslim community. It said Das told staff members that punishing violations by BJP politicians would damage the company’s business prospects in India.

Sharing the letter written by the Congress to the Facebook founder on Twitter, former party president Rahul Gandhi said: “We cannot allow any manipulation of our hard-earned democracy through bias, fake news and hate speech. As exposed by WSJ, Facebook’s involvement in peddling fake and hate news needs to be questioned by all Indians.”

The Congress has been up in arms against the government and Facebook over the WSJ report. KC Venugopal, the Congress general secretary (organisation), kept up the party’s attack in the letter to Zuckerberg, in which he wrote that the social company provided the BJP with “favourable treatment on election-related issues”. He called it a “damning and serious allegation” that Facebook was interfering in India’s electoral democracy.

The Congress asked Zuckerberg to start a high-level inquiry on the Facebook India leadership team and their operations. It suggested the appointment of a new team to lead the India operations until the inquiry is completed.

HT reached out to Facebook for a comment, but it had no immediate response.

The BJP hit out at the Congress over its demand for a Facebook inquiry.

Union information technology minister and senior BJP leader Prasad said people whose political base had “shrunk like anything” seek to dominate discourse on social media platforms, and asserted that everyone, regardless of his or her ideology, has the right to air their views.

“If the platform is public, then every Indian regardless of his ideology and commitment has got the right to convey his view. It is a hard fact we need to know that people whose political base has shrunk seek to dominate discourse on these platforms,” Prasad said.

Amit Malviya, the BJP’s national IT in-charge, said: “Congress party, faced with electoral irrelevance, and rejection at the hustings, wants to pin blame on everyone else except its uninspiring and unworthy leadership.”

“Facebook is just another addition to their ‘save the Gandhis’ campaign. The Left-Congress ecosystem wants unfettered control over freedom of speech and hence, in a last roll of the dice, are now trying to muzzle platforms which have empowered ordinary citizens and made their opinions valuable. A vibrant, participative democracy is inimical to their political agenda.”

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