IT panel summons Facebook, govt officials amid allegations of electoral manipulation
This comes after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi last week urged the government to end the “systematic influence and interference of Facebook and other social media giants” in elections
New Delhi: Opposition Congress lawmaker Shashi Tharoor-led parliamentary standing committee on information technology (IT) has called Facebook and electronics and IT ministry officials to discuss the prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms with special emphasis on the security of women in the digital space.
In its agenda, the panel said it also wants to hear the views of the “representatives of Facebook India on the subject ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights”. It added the same applies to the ministry officials.
This comes days after Congress chief Sonia Gandhi on Wednesday last alleged social media giants were being used to “hack democracy” and urged the government to end the “systematic influence and interference of Facebook and other social media giants” on electoral politics.
Speaking in Lok Sabha, she called it an issue of paramount importance while referring to the rising danger of social media abuse. She added companies such as Facebook and Twitter were used increasingly to shape political narratives by leaders, parties, and their proxies.
Gandhi’s comments followed an Al Jazeera article that said Facebook undercut the Opposition’s influence on the platform ahead of the 2019 national elections and gave a distinct advantage to the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). The article was based on an analysis of 536,070 political advertisements on Facebook and Instagram from February 2019 to November 2020. It assessed the influence of Facebook’s political advertising policies on the elections.
Facebook (now Meta) and Twitter did not comment.
Without directly referring to the article, Gandhi said bias by platforms such as Facebook has repeatedly come to the notice of the public. “...global social media companies are not providing a level playing field to all parties.” She added the blatant manner in which social harmony was being disturbed with the connivance of the ruling establishment is dangerous for democracy.
Gandhi said minds were being filled with hate through emotionally charged disinformation, sometimes by proxies. She added companies such as Facebook were aware of it and profiting. She referred to a growing nexus between big corporations, the ruling establishment, and global social media giants.
Congress lawmaker Rahul Gandhi also took a dig at the company. “Meta-worse for democracy,” he tweeted.
BJP spokesman Shehzad Poonawalla hit back calling the comments “the typical modus operandi” of Congress. “Whether it is the EVM [electronic voting machines] or the Election Commission or blaming the people of India or now social media. Rahul Gandhi and Congress, just a few months ago, were hailing Twitter and other social media companies as bastions of free speech when the government came up with the intermediary guidelines to ensure they do not play super editors and remain neutral and operate as platforms to ensure a level playing field.”
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