House panel on IT questions Facebook officials over algorithms promoting hate speech

House Panel chairperson Shashi Tharoor also sought the members’ consent to call Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang to speak before the panel
The parliamentary panel on information technology led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor questioned officials from Facebook regarding allegations by whistleblowers that the social media company’s algorithms promoted hate speech in India. (AFP)
The parliamentary panel on information technology led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor questioned officials from Facebook regarding allegations by whistleblowers that the social media company’s algorithms promoted hate speech in India. (AFP)
Updated on Nov 30, 2021 06:34 AM IST
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ByDeeksha Bhardwaj, New Delhi

The parliamentary panel on information technology led by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor questioned officials from Facebook regarding allegations by whistleblowers that the social media company’s algorithms promoted hate speech in India, people familiar with the matter said on Monday.

“It was an intensive two-long meeting where MPs from across party lines sought answers from Facebook about whether or not the algorithms actually promote prevalence of hate speech,” a person said on the condition of anonymity.

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The meeting, which was attended by at least 15 of 30 members, also asked Facebook to give details about the kind of action the company has taken to curb any partisan policies or enforcement in writing. “The company was also asked about its content moderators, how many it has in India and what all languages are covered,” the person mentioned above added. “No one is prepared to accept that all is well and nothing wrong is happening. It was not an adversarial meeting, the persistent questions focused on getting at the nitty gritty of the issue.”

Facebook did not respond to requests for a comment.

HT has learnt that committee chairperson Tharoor also sought the members’ consent to call Facebook whistleblower Sophie Zhang to speak before the panel. “The panel was unanimous in saying that she should be invited to speak. Protocol will be followed and the request will be routed through the Speaker’s office,” the person quoted above said.

Zhang has shared details with the panel, which is analysing the material.

Last month, former Facebook employee Frances Haugen sent a complaint to the US Securities and Exchange Commission citing internal documents that back some of these allegations. Haugen has already testified before the US Senate and UK Parliament.

Zhang has earlier exposed the company’s partisan policy in removing inauthentic accounts from the social media platform, some of which were ahead of the 2020 Delhi elections, she told HT in an interview last month. Zhang is among several former Facebook employees and contractors who have said that the company’s policies and management are leading to harm. In a tweet last month, she had also said she would be willing to testify before the Indian Parliament.

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The disclosed documents contend users, groups and pages linked to the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh promote Islamophobia and “fear mongering”, and that the company failed to put “forth a nomination or designation” for other right-wing groups such as the Bajrang Dal given “political sensitiveness”.

This, however, was not the first time Facebook has been accused of not censoring political content related to the party power. Last year, the Wall Street Journal reported the company’s ostensible reluctance in acting against Telangana BJP leader T Raja Singh, who made comments denigrating Muslim people.

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Friday, May 20, 2022