Facebook whistleblower may have to wait longer to appear before House panel

Updated on Jun 07, 2022 05:05 AM IST

On November 1, 2021, the chief of the parliamentary panel on information technology, Shashi Tharoor, tweeted that he had sought Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s approval for Zhang’s deposition.

FB whistleblower, citing screenshots of her workplace conversations that purported to show that the social media company (now called Meta) did not act against Bharatiya Janata Party MP Vinod Sonkar,  offered to testify to Parliament in connection with it
FB whistleblower, citing screenshots of her workplace conversations that purported to show that the social media company (now called Meta) did not act against Bharatiya Janata Party MP Vinod Sonkar,  offered to testify to Parliament in connection with it
By, New Delhi

Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang or other foreigners might have to wait longer to depose before a parliamentary panel since authorities are working on “new modalities” for foreign nationals appearing before House panels, a senior Lok Sabha official said on Monday.

Also Read | Facebook didn’t block BJP MP’s fake accounts: Whistleblower

Zhang, citing screenshots of her workplace conversations that purported to show that the social media company (now called Meta) did not act against Bharatiya Janata Party MP Vinod Sonkar,  offered to testify to parliament in connection with it.

On November 1, 2021, the chief of the parliamentary panel on information technology, Shashi Tharoor, tweeted that he had sought Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla’s approval for Zhang’s deposition. While Tharoor’s announcement was not well-received by some BJP members in the committee, he neither received a green light nor a rejection of the request.

Top officials told HT on Monday that the Lok Sabha Speaker met chairpersons of all parliamentary committees under the jurisdiction of the Lok Sabha on December 20, 2021, and several other leaders on February 4 this year. “On both occasions, the issue of calling foreign nationals was briefly touched upon. It was mentioned that new modalities should be framed before calling such witnesses.”

Officials pointed out that the rules, framed first on April 17, 1952, have undergone changes several times but the issue of representation of foreign nationals or foreign companies has gained prominence only in the recent past.

“Also, all Indians who appear before a House panel are bound by the law of the land but those rules won’t apply to a foreign national. Therefore, a holistic approach needs to be taken before calling a foreign national to depose before the House,” added another official.

The first official also pointed out that all issues related to the amendment of rules or fresh modalities would be taken up at the General Purpose Committee, “a panel where all chairpersons of standing committees are members.”

HT reported on Monday citing documents shared by Zhang that showed conversations between Facebook content managers. Sonkar, the documents suggested, ran a fake account network that was not acted upon despite Zhang raising the matter on multiple instances. On the other hand, similar networks linked to the Aam Aadmi Party and the Congress were disabled by the company.

Following the publication by several news organisations, Zhang tweeted on Monday: “It’s been 13 months since I came forward. I’ve testified to the EU/UK Parliaments. But (Speaker Om Birla) @ombirlakota will not allow my testimony in India That is why I’ve now released the documentation I offered the Lok Sabha, so the Indian people may judge for themselves,” she said.

The controversy around the preferential treatment of political leaders connected to the BJP began in August 2020 when the Wall Street Journal reported, citing unnamed sources, that the company did not act on hate speech by Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh at the insistence of its internal public policy team.

In the months since, more internal documents have been leaked, including by another whistleblower Frances Haugen, who disclosed Facebook’s internal programmes like XCheck, a tool it uses to classify high profile accounts that are exempted from some automated enforcement actions. Sonkar’s account was tagged as sensitive by XCheck, documents shared by Zhang showed.

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