EVEN as the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology sent a letter to Facebook Monday seeking its explanation on The Wall Street Journal report, the social media company’s public policy director, Ankhi Das, filed a complaint to Delhi Police alleging “violent threats” against her.
In her complaint, Das said: “Since August 14, I have been receiving violent threats to my life and body, and I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me by the accused persons. The content, which even includes my photograph, is evidently threatening to my life and body and I fear for my safety as well as that of my family members. The content also maligns my reputation based on a news article and I am subjected to name-calling, cyber bullying and eve-teasing online.”
Das was named in the WSJ report that citing business imperatives, she “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.”
The four-page complaint submitted by Das lists Facebook and Twitter handles she has said were used to send her the threats.
The alleged harassment included death threats on Twitter and circulation of her photographs on social media along with defamatory comments, she said.
Das, who sought police protection, said that the WSJ article “was further published in a mischaracterized and distorted manner in India by various publications and further widely circulated on social media.”
Delhi Police Spokesperson Eish Singhal said, “We have received the complaint and the matter is under inquiry.”
An FIR has been registered and police are likely to record her statement under Section 164 of CrPC.
A Facebook spokesperson, when asked about Das’s complaint, said: “We take the safety and security of our employees seriously and care for their well-being. However, we do not comment on individual employee matters.”
Meanwhile, opposing the Shashi Tharoor-chaired committee’s move to send a letter to Facebook, BJP member Nishikant Dubey claimed the Congress MP had violated rules.
“Rule 269 (1) says a witness may be summoned by an order signed by the Secretary-General and shall produce such documents as are required for the use of a Committee. Did Tharoor do that? Tharoor should realise the Parliamentary Standing Committee is an extension of Parliament, not the Congress party,” Dubey told The Indian Express.
Sources said the IT panel Chairman’s office sent a letter to Facebook India inviting its representatives to appear and explain the charges made in the report. “This is equivalent to a summons from a court. If you cannot appear you have to give reasons which the court (in this case the panel) may or may not accept,” said the source.
Earlier in the day, Dubey, posting an image on Twitter of The Indian Express report that the House panel would seek Facebook’s explanation, said: “The Chairman of Standing Committee does not have the authority to do anything without discussion of the agenda with its member.”
Hours later, TMC’s Mahua Moitra, another member of the panel, backed Tharoor. “Am (committee) member – agenda item was already agreed & bulletinized with Speaker’s approval at the beginning of the year. When to schedule each item & who to call is Chairman’s prerogative. Amazing how BJP jumps up & down at anything to do with FB’s interests!” she said.
Dubey reacted to Moitra asking her to read Rule 269. In another tweet, the BJP MP said: “Time will tell who brought the committee’s work into disrepute, Mr. Chairman.”
Tharoor responded: “By imputing motives to my decision, (Dubey) has brought the Committee’s work into disrepute, a matter I will take up. Extraordinary that an MP would suggest that a matter of such great public interest should not be taken up by us!”
When contacted, Dubey told The Indian Express that ruling party MPs would raise this in the next meeting of the panel.
As for the Congress demand for a JPC probe, the CPM joined in, too. “The huge financial resources at the disposal of BJP aided further by the opaque electoral bonds scheme completely ensures its control over social media. There should be an urgent and thorough enquiry into this nexus between Facebook-WhatsApp-Instagram and BJP,” the party said.
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