Showdown likely as Parliament’s IT panel meets over WSJ report on Facebook

A showdown is on the cards at the meeting where MPs will hear allegations made by The Wall Street Journal in recent reports against Facebook
According to members of the panel, who did not wish to be named, both the BJP and the Congress are poised to corner Facebook about its policy decisions.(Reuters)
According to members of the panel, who did not wish to be named, both the BJP and the Congress are poised to corner Facebook about its policy decisions.(Reuters)
Updated on Sep 02, 2020 02:43 PM IST
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Hindustan Times, New Delhi | ByDeeksha Bhardwaj

A showdown is on the cards on Wednesday at the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, where Members of Parliament (MPs) will hear allegations made by Rupert Murdoch-owned publication The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in recent reports against the social media company, Facebook.

California’s Menlo Park-headquartered Facebook overlooked hate speeches posted by leaders of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and other right-wing groups, as it would have hurt the company’s business interests in India, its biggest market, the WSJ report had alleged in its first report in August.

The House panel has 30 members, out of which at least 15 belong to BJP and its allies, who are a part of the National Democratic Alliance (NDA).

The Congress has three members, while other regional parties such as the Trinamool Congress (TMC), Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK), Telangana Rashtriya Samity (TRS), Shiv Sena, Yuvajana Sramika Rythu Congress Party (YSRCP) and Communist Party of India (Marxist) are represented by an MP each.

Also Watch l RS Prasad writes to Facebook; alleges political bias, slams ‘selective leaks’ 

Most opposition parties such as the DMK, the TRS, the TMC and the CPI(M) have backed Tharoor’s bid to seek an explanation from Facebook about the WSJ reports.

However, BJP MPs such as Nishikant Dubey have contended that Snehlata Shrivastava, the secretary-general of the 17th Lok Sabha, is only empowered to summon a witness.

The panel’s meeting on Tuesday was cut short in honour of late President Pranab Mukherjee, whose last rites were performed following his demise the previous day.

The panel was slated to hear from the Union Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA), the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) and officials about internet shutdowns, especially in the union territory of Jammu & Kashmir (J&K).

According to members of the panel, who did not wish to be named, both the BJP and the Congress are poised to corner Facebook about its policy decisions.

A BJP MP said that Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad’s letter had set the tone for the BJP’s attack on Facebook.

On Tuesday, Prasad had attacked Facebook for its biases against right-wing groups and demanded a probe into the conduct of an employee of the social media company for making alleged uncharitable remarks against Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

“So many people on Facebook are associated with the Congress. We intend to take that matter up in the meeting,” said an MP, requesting anonymity.

A second MP from the opposition camp asserted that they would push for the removal of Ankhi Das, the public policy director for Facebook for India, South and Central Asia.

Das has been at the centre of the raging controversy ever since the first WSJ report was published that had questioned her pro-BJP actions.

She had allegedly opposed applying hate-speech rules to T Raja Singh, the lone BJP lawmaker in the Telangana assembly, despite his provocative and incendiary Facebook posts had repeatedly targeted the Muslims, the report had said.

According to a new report in the WSJ published on late Sunday evening, Das had also praised PM Modi as the “strongman”, who had broken the Congress’s socialist hold in the country.

Though the comment was made in a Facebook group designed for its India employees, it was open to a global audience.

The Congress and CPI (M) have demanded a criminal investigation into Facebook’s actions.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022