In the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Wednesday questioned links between the Congress and the data mining firm, which is at the centre of controversy in the United States and Britain after being accused of harvesting personal information from Facebook illegally to influence polls in several countries.
Citing media reports about the Congress’ plan to use the firm’s service for next year’s Lok Sabha elections, Prasad, the law and IT minister, called upon Rahul Gandhi to explain the company’s role in his social media outreach. The BJP leader said the number of Gandhi’s Twitter followers had shot up recently and wondered if it was due to the services of the firm that he achieved this “fake popularity”.
“Will the Congress now depend on data manipulation and theft to woo voters?” Prasad asked. He said the firm has been accused of using “sex, sleaze and fake news” to influence elections and asked if the Congress too plans to walk the same path.
“The Congress must explain if it has engaged in data trade with Cambridge Analytica,” he said, questioning the opposition party’s “silence” despite numerous reports of its link with the company. Prasad also took the opportunity to warn social media platforms like Facebook of stringent action if any attempt was made by them to influence the country’s electoral process through “undesirable means”.
“…let me make it very, very clear, we fully support freedom of press, speech and expression; we fully support free exchange of ideas on social media. But any attempt, covert or overt, by social media, including Facebook, of trying to influence India’s electoral process through undesirable means will neither be appreciated nor be tolerated,” Prasad said.
Rebutting the charges made by the BJP, Congress leader Randeep Surjewala said neither his party nor Rahul Gandhi has ever hired the services of the beleaguered company. “Indian National Congress or the Congress President has never used or never hired the services of a company called Cambridge Analytica. It is a fake agenda and white lie being dished out by Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad,” said Surjewala.
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— Randeep Singh Surjewala (@rssurjewala) March 21, 2018
Describing law minister Prasad as ‘lawless’ law minister, the Congress leader said, “BJP’s factory of fake news has produced one more fake product today. It appears fake statements, fake press conferences & fake agendas have become everyday character of BJP.”
The Congress further made counter allegations that BJP-JD(U) had used the Cambridge Analytica’s services in 2010. “Cambridge Analytica’s linked website shows that in 2010 its services were used by BJP-JD(U). Firm’s Indian partner Ovlene Business Intelligence (OBI) is being run by BJP ally’s MP’s son. OBI company’s services were used by Rajnath Singh in 2009,” Surjewala added.