Cong again writes to FB on JPC probe
New Delhi: The Congress on Saturday reiterated its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the alleged links of Facebook employees and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), and once again wrote to the global social media giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking him to specify the steps being taken to investigate the charges against its India unit.
The opposition party also threatened to pursue legislative and judicial actions to ensure that a foreign company does not create social disharmony in India.
This is for the second time in a month that Congress general secretary incharge of organisation KC Venugopal has written to Zuckerberg on the allegations of Facebook being biased towards the ruling party.
Venugopal’s letter to Zuckerberg came in the wake of an article in Time magazine, which the Congress said “revealed more information and evidence of biases and a quid pro quo relationship” of Facebook India with the BJP.
A report in The Wall Street Journal earlier this month had mentioned similar allegations, which were strongly rejected by both Facebook and the BJP.
Tagging the Time magazine report, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted that it exposes the “WhatsApp-BJP nexus”. WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook.
“Used by 40 Cr Indians, WhatsApp also wants to be used for making payments for which Modi Government’s approval is needed. Thus, BJP has a hold over WhatsApp,” he alleged.
In his letter, Venugopal, referred to his earlier letter dated August 17 in which the party had requested the US-based company to investigate the allegations made in The Wall Street Journal article that the social media platform refused to apply hate speech rules to certain BJP politicians.
“We draw your attention to the article in Time magazine dated August 27 that reveals more information and evidence of biases and a quid-pro-quo relationship of Facebook India with the ruling BJP,” he wrote in the fresh letter.
“We will also be pursuing legislative and judicial actions in India to ensure that a foreign company cannot continue to cause social disharmony in our nation for their pursuit of private profits,” Venugopal warned.
At the party’s press conference, spokesperson Pawan Khera and data analytics department chief Praveen Chakravarty called for an “exhaustive and unbiased investigation by a JPC between the unending links” of Facebook employees and the ruling establishment.
“The investigation must include how Facebook manipulated voter opinion, allowed hate speech and was oblivious to fake news, even when they were in clear violation of their own regulations,” they said.
“In the last 10 days, BJP and Facebook’s close relationship have been disclosed. In a new revelation, an international magazine has disclosed a relationship between WhatsApp and the BJP,” Khera told reporters.
“Beyond just Ankhi Das, what has now been revealed exposes that another senior executive, Shivnath Thukral of WhatsApp is an unabashed devotee of the ruling establishment and was partisan in his professional conduct,” he alleged.
“The expose’ reveals Thukral was hired by Facebook in 2017 only because he was ‘extremely close’ to the ruling establishment. It elaborates that Mr Thukral’s relationship with the ruling party goes as far back as 2013 when he operated websites and Facebook pages for the 2014 election campaign in conjunction with other BJP affiliates who continue to hold senior positions in the current government,” Khera further alleged.
“Can 40 crore (400 million) Indians trust WhatsApp, which is indirectly controlled by one political party? What is the assurance that bank details, transaction details and private data of Indian users using WhatsApp is not being shared with the BJP and misused?” asked Khera.
“WhatsApp cannot be granted approvals for its payment operations until the inquiry is complete and the recommended actions are taken by the company,” the Congress leaders said.
They also demanded that the report of the investigation ordered by Facebook into the conduct of its Indian unit be made public. “The investigation must include how Facebook manipulated voter opinion, allowed hate speech and was oblivious to fake news, even when they were in clear violation of their regulations,” Khera said.
Earlier on August 16, Gandhi had alleged that the BJP and the RSS control Facebook and WhatsApp in the country. He also alleged that they spread fake news and hatred through these social media platforms to influence the electorate.
“BJP & RSS control Facebook & WhatsApp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook,” he had tweeted.