Parliamentary panel asks Facebook to curb divisive posts on platforms

Updated on Mar 07, 2019 07:01 AM IST

The panel, citing tensions between India and Pakistan following the February 14 Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir that left at least 40 paramilitary troopers dead, is learnt to have asked Facebook to ensure there is no threat of information leakage though social media.

A parliamentary panel on information technology on Wednesday asked social media giant Facebook to ensure that its platform and those of its photo-sharing site Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp are not misused to create divisions, incite violence.(Reuters File Photo)
A parliamentary panel on information technology on Wednesday asked social media giant Facebook to ensure that its platform and those of its photo-sharing site Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp are not misused to create divisions, incite violence.(Reuters File Photo)
Hindustan Times, New Delhi | BySmriti Kak Ramachandran and Vidhi Choudhary

A parliamentary panel on information technology on Wednesday asked social media giant Facebook to ensure that its platform and those of its photo-sharing site Instagram and messaging app WhatsApp are not misused to create divisions, incite violence, pose a threat to India’s security, or let foreign powers meddle in the upcoming general election, people aware of the developments said.

The panel also told Facebook, whose vice president for global public policy Joel Kaplan appeared before it on Wednesday, that protecting citizens’ data was as much a priority as national security and asked the company to spell out in 10 days the steps it will take to meet the objectives.

According to a person aware of the development, Kaplan accepted that a need existed for corrective measures, which he said the company was ready to put in place. Kaplan, who was accompanied by Ajit Mohan, managing director of Facebook India, is leant to have said the company would be in touch with the Election Commission and government ministries on information related to the identity and location of advertisers. The company said all information related to political advertisements will be put out on a special web page for users, the person said on the condition of anonymity.

The panel, citing tensions between India and Pakistan following the February 14 Pulwama attack in Jammu and Kashmir that left at least 40 paramilitary troopers dead, is learnt to have asked Facebook to ensure there is no threat of information leakage though social media.

It is learnt that Facebook executives told the panel that it was a hybrid company, but could not give details about which regulatory framework could apply to its content, advertising and marketing operations in India.

According to a second person, a few members referred to a UK parliamentary report on disinformation and fake news, which said the management structure of Facebook was opaque to those outside the business and seemed designed to conceal knowledge of and responsibility for specific decisions.

A few members also raised concerns over “speculative posts” put out by Facebook employees following the Pulwama attack and the subsequent strike carried out by the Indian air force. When members pointed out that these posts had the potential to politicise a critical issue, Kaplan is learnt to have apologised.

Panel members also raised the issue of pending complaints with the company. One member complained of having multiple accounts in his name.

Kaplan said: “We are grateful to the honourable parliamentary committee for giving us the opportunity to show how we are preparing for the Indian elections and helping keep people safe.”

Last month, the company said advertisements that reference political personalities, political parties and elections will carry disclaimers about who published and paid for the ads.

Wednesday’s meeting came close on the heels of the parliamentary panel summoning microblogging website Twitter’s global vice president of public policy, Colin Crowell, on February 25 to ensure that its platform is not misused during Lok Sabha elections. The panel asked Twitter to address the concerns of the Election Commission and work with the poll body in real time to address all high priority issues flagged by it.

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