Facebook ‘interfering’ with India’s electoral democracy: Congress writes to Mark Zuckerberg
The Congress on Tuesday wrote to Mark Zuckerberg saying Facebook may be “a willing participant in thwarting the rights and values” its founding leaders sacrificed their lives for while calling for an inquiry into a report that last week claimed that the social media company was biased towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in censoring hate speech.
K C Venugopal, the Congress general secretary (organisation), kept up the party’s attack in a letter to Zuckerberg over the issue. He referred to the report and said 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 Wall Street Journal report on Friday suggested Facebook was going easy on hate speeches by BJP members and triggered a controversy. The Congress on Saturday said it had flagged similar concerns to a senior executive of the social media company named in the report.
The 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.
The Congress on Tuesday asked Zuckerberg to set up a high-level inquiry into the Facebook India leadership team and their operations. It has asked the company to make public all instances of hate speech posts since 2014 allowed on the platform. The Congress has suggested the appointment of a new team to lead the India operations till the inquiry is completed. “As India’s oldest political party that fought for the nation’s freedom and established electoral democracy through adult franchise, it is deeply disturbing to note that your company may be a willing participant in thwarting the very rights and values that our founding leaders sacrificed their lives for,” said Venugopal.
HT reached out to Facebook for a comment but did not get a response immediately. The report will be updated to reflect Facebook’s response once it is received.
The BJP hit out at the Congress for its demand for a Facebook inquiry. “[The] Congress party, faced with electoral irrelevance, and rejection at the hustings, wants to pin blame on everyone else except its uninspiring and unworthy leadership,” said Amit Malviya, the BJP’s national Information and technology in-charge. “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 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.”
The Congress on Monday attacked Facebook, saying its “inaction against hate content destabilises” democracy in India, and reiterated its demand for a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the charges.
Parliamentary affairs minister Pralhad Joshi rejected Congress’s demand for the JPC probe into the matter, saying it was out of the question
Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who heads the parliamentary standing committee on information technology, Sunday said the panel would like to hear an explanation from the social media company about the report. The panel has been split over asking Facebook executives to explain the report.
BJP lawmaker Nishikant Dubey, who is a member of the panel, on Monday said Tharoor cannot call Facebook to seek an explanation because the House rules do not allow it. He cited Rule 269 and added the secretary-general has the power to summon a witness.
India is one of Facebook’s fastest-growing markets and the company was estimated to have close to 350 million users by June. Instagram and WhatsApp, both owned by the California-based company, have hundreds of millions more users from India.
Social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter have been under increasing pressure because there are concerns that they are not doing enough to crackdown on fake news and hate speech.