AUGUST 17, 2020
A massive can of worms has been opened in India after a report in the Wall Street Journal claimed that Facebook ignored applying its hate speech rules to BJP leaders in India.
The expose has raised questions over the ties between the ruling BJP and Facebook, putting into focus the role of a top executive of the social media platform, Ankhi Das.
The report published in Wall Street Journal claimed that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s public policy director for India, South and Central Asia, told employees that initiating punitive action against BJP politicians indulging in hate propaganda would hurt the company’s “business prospects” in India.
Now, a slugfest has erupted between the Congress and the BJP on the issue with the opposition demanding a free and fair probe into Facebook’s operations in India.
While BJP accused the social media giant of censoring nationalist voices, opposition Congress seized on the Wall Street Journal report that alleged that Facebook’s content policies favour the ruling party.
HERE IS WHAT THE FACEBOOK CONTROVERSY IS ALL ABOUT:
1. On Friday, a report in an international daily, Wall Street Journal, alleged that Facebook was biased in its functioning in India as it ignored its hate speech policy and allowed anti-Muslim posts on its platform. The report further said that the company did so to avoid ruining its relationship with the Indian government.
2. The authors of the report cited the example of BJP Telangana MP T Raja Singh and his statement about Rohingya Muslim immigrants. They claimed that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top executive in India, opposed the application of hate-speech rules to members of the ruling BJP. Raja Singh, however, claimed that his account was hacked when the contentious post was made.
3. Seizing on the report, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP and RSS of spreading “fake news” using Facebook and WhatsApp to influence the electorate. “BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook,” Gandhi said.
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 16, 2020
4. This triggered a sharp counter-attack from Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad who reminded the opposition party of the Cambridge Analytica issue. Prasad tweeted, “Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP and RSS.” “You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to weaponise data before the elections and now have the gall to question us,” he added.
The fact is that today access to information and freedom of expression has been democratized. It is no longer controlled by retainers of your family and that is why it hurts.
Btw, haven’t yet heard your condemnation of the Bangalore riots. Where did your courage disappear?
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) August 16, 2020
5. The Congress demanded a probe by a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) into the charges mentioned in the report, saying they threaten the foundation of Indian democracy and need to be investigated.
6. Coming under heat, Facebook issued a statement – “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally regardless of anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” a spokesperson said.
7. Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, said the panel would like to hear from Facebook about the report. “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology would certainly wish to hear from Facebook about these reports and what they propose to do about hate-speech in India,” he posted.
8. As the issue gathered steam, senior Facebook India executive Ankhi Das filed a complaint with Delhi Police, alleging that she has been receiving “violent threats to her life”. CyPAD Unit of Delhi Police has registered a case.
9. Meanwhile, the NDA members of the 31-member IT Standing Committee have sought the removal of chairman Shashi Tharoor over claims that he violated rules and procedures and pushed Congress agenda in the panel. BJP MP from Jharkhand Nishikant Dubey told India Today TV, “The standing committee rules say that the agenda has to be decided in consultation with the members of the committee and notified through a set procedure. Since that hasn’t been done it’s a clear violation of rules.”
10. A Delhi Assembly panel on peace and harmony also said on Monday that it will summon Facebook officials over complaints about the social media platform’s alleged “deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content” in India.
The Congress will use the issue to set the stage for the Parliament’s monsoon session which is likely to be called in September.
The BJP and the government have, however, junked the demand for a parliamentary probe claiming that it is the Congress which needs to come clean on how it’s men held crucial posts in the Facebook management.
This faceoff along with the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic and aggression by China in Ladakh is expected to impact the session and create fireworks and dissent instead of fruitful discussion.
Courtesy/Source: India Today