The Congress on Saturday wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg for the second time in a fortnight, seeking details of the steps being taken by the social media firm to investigate allegations that it does not apply hate speech rules to posts by BJP members.
The Opposition party alleged that the ruling BJP and Facebook have a “quid-pro-quo relationship” and said it “will also be pursuing legislative and judicial actions in India to ensure that a foreign company cannot continue to cause social disharmony in our nation for pursuit of private profits”.
However, the BJP hit back, accusing the Congress of blaming its own shortcomings in the elections on others.
Referring to an article in Time magazine, former Congress president Rahul Gandhi tweeted, “America’s Time magazine exposes WhatsApp-BJP nexus: Used by 40 Cr Indians, WhatsApp also wants to be used for making payments for which Modi Govt’s approval is needed. Thus, BJP has a hold over WhatsApp.”
Following that, the party released a letter by AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal to Zuckerberg. Venugopal, in his letter, recalled that the Congress had, in the wake of a report in The Wall Street Journal, wrote to him, asking him to set up an inquiry into Facebook’s leadership team in India and their operations and put in place a new team until completion of the internal investigation.
“We are now compelled to write to you again in such a short span of time because of further information and revelations made public in another article by another reputed and credible American media publication. We draw your attention to the article in Time magazine that reveals more information and evidence of biases and a quid-pro-quo relationship of Facebook India with the ruling BJP,” he wrote.
Venugopal said the article suggests that “the BJP has been allowed to exercise control of WhatsApp’s India operations in return for a possible license for its payment operations, which is critical for the future of WhatsApp in India. More than just one person in your company’s leadership team in India are biased and partisan in favour of the ruling BJP in their professional endeavours.
“The problem is larger, deeper and more pervasive than initially assumed. The WhatsApp platform used by 400 million Indians has been willingly allowed by your India team to be appropriated for hate speech and the consequent tearing of India’s fabric of social harmony. In light of the above new revelations and evidence…we urge you to let us know what steps your company is planning to take to investigate these matters and draw a plan of action to stem the rot in your India operations,” he said.
Later addressing a press conference, the party’s Technology and Data Cell chairman Praveen Chakravarty and spokesperson Pawan Khera reiterated the demand for a Joint parliamentary committee (JPC) probe into the links between Facebook employees and the ruling establishment, including “how Facebook manipulated voter opinion, allowed hate speech and was oblivious to fake news, even when they were in clear violation of their regulations”.
They also demanded that WhatsApp be not granted approvals for its payment operations until the inquiry is complete.
The BJP hit back, with party general secretary P Muralidhar Rao tweeting, “Sriman #RahulGandhi..!!! Every time he comes with new sensation news- allegations on,why’s he failed? Why Congress’s failing?”
He added, “2014 Congress defeat due to EVM manipulation; 2019 Cong-great failure due to @Facebook, @Twitter bias towards @BJP4India; BJP hold on @WhatsApp. Always ready to throw on others. Beware..!!!!”
A member from the BJP IT cell also said that he has attempted to raise issues of pro-Congress pages that were spreading “fake news”, grievance channels for pro-BJP “volunteer” pages facing deletion, and a list of pro-BJP pages deleted in April. These issues were not addressed by the company, he claimed.
Asked about the WSJ report, a Facebook spokesperson told The Indian Express: “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to 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.”
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