India writes to Facebook, alleges it is the latest ‘tool’ to create social disturbances

In a letter written by union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, India has raised the need for country specific community guidelines and said that as a transactional digital platform, Facebook must not only be fair and neutral, but also visibly seen to be so.
The letter comes in the wake of a controversy stoked by a report in the Wall Street Journal, alleging that Facebook showed a bias in not taking down content from the BJP supported pages or accounts that flouted norms and that its head of public policy in India Ankhi Das showed support for the BJP.(REUTERS PHOTO.)
The letter comes in the wake of a controversy stoked by a report in the Wall Street Journal, alleging that Facebook showed a bias in not taking down content from the BJP supported pages or accounts that flouted norms and that its head of public policy in India Ankhi Das showed support for the BJP.(REUTERS PHOTO.)
Updated on Sep 01, 2020 07:28 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySmriti Kak Ramachandran | Edited by Sohini Sarkar

In a strongly worded letter, India has raised the issue of free speech with social media giant Facebook, alleging that the platform is the “latest tool” being used to create “internal divisions and social disturbances” by vested groups.

In a letter written by Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, India has raised the need for country specific community guidelines and said that as a transactional digital platform, Facebook must not only be fair and neutral, but also visibly seen to be so.

Also read: India writes to Facebook, alleges it is the latest ‘tool’ to create social disturbances

The letter comes in the wake of a controversy stoked by a report in the Wall Street Journal, alleging that Facebook showed a bias in not taking down content from the BJP supported pages or accounts that flouted norms and that its head of public policy in India, Ankhi Das, showed support for the BJP.

“I have been informed that in the run-up to 2019 general elections in India, there was a concerted effort by Facebook Indian management to not just delete pages or substantially reduce to reach but also offer no records or right of appeal to affected people who are supportive of the right of the Centre ideology. I’m also aware that dozens of emails written to Facebook management received no response,” the letter says.

Also read: BJP alleges Cong-Facebook nexus, new report says Das took credit for ‘Modi’s campaign’

The IT minister has also flagged the issue of FB employees running campaigns to discredit the democratic process of the country. “Individuals working in any organisation may have their individual likes or dislikes, but that must not have any bearing on the public policies and performance of the organisation. It seems from credible media reports that Facebook India team, right from the managing director to other senior officials is dominated by people who belong to a particular political belief,” the letter says.

Following the WSJ report, the Congress also wrote to Zuckerberg seeking details on steps being taken to investigate allegations that the social media giant does not apply hate speech rules to posts by BJP members.

Prasad in his letter has, however, hit out at the allegations and without taking names said that people from a particular “political predisposition have been overwhelmingly defeated in successive free and fair elections. After having lost all democratic legitimacy, they are trying to discredit India’s democratic process by dominating the decision making apparatus of important social media platforms.”

The minister has also pointed out that it “problematic when Facebook employees are on record abusing the Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers of India while working in Facebook India and managing important positions.”

Alleging that the employee’s bias could impact free speech the letter says, it is “unacceptable when political bosses of individuals impinge on the freedom of speech of millions of people.”

Also read: Report on Facebook’s leniency to BJP members’ communal posts causes row

Without naming the report, the letter says that recent media reports suggest that “deeply entrenched vested interests aren’t satisfied with the shrinking space for one side of the spectrum in India and want to throttle it completely.”

“… The spate of recent anonymous, source-based reports is nothing but an internal power struggle with within your company for an ideological hegemony… No other logic and explain how facts are being spun by the selective leaks from within your company to try to portray an alternate reality. This interference in India’s political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable,” the letter said. WSJ report was based on internal emails and interviews with employees.

The other issues that the minister has flagged include the platform being “used by anarchic and radical elements whose sole aim is to destroy social order, to recruit people and to assemble them for violence” and “outsourcing of fact checking to third-party fact checkers.”

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