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Tuesday, September 22, 2020

House panel to ask Facebook to explain ‘inaction’ on hate posts linked to BJP

Sources said the committee Secretariat will write to Facebook Monday demanding its explanation and is also likely to summon the social media company.

Written by Karishma Mehrotra , Manoj C G , Liz Mathew | New Delhi | Updated: August 17, 2020 11:45:05 am
covid-19, coronavirus, shashi tharoor, kunal kamra, indigo, indigo flights, shashi tharoor tweets, trending, indian express, indian express newsLast week, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor had tweeted that it was brought to his notice through a foreign resident journalist that India was not allowing “re-entry privileges for foreign journalist (whose) visas are suspended if they leave India”. (PTI/file)

THE Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology will look into the report in The Wall Street Journal that Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, citing business reasons, didn’t apply “hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP who were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence”.

“I will certainly look into the issue and the committee will seek the views of Facebook,” committee chairman Shashi Tharoor told The Indian Express.

Sources said the committee Secretariat will write to Facebook Monday demanding its explanation and is also likely to summon the social media company.

Read | Rahul Gandhi attacks BJP over WSJ report on Facebook, party hits back

The WSJ had reported that Facebook India’s Public Policy Director Ankhi Das told staff members that “punishing violations” by BJP politicians “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users.” Read in Tamil

Referring to hate-speech — calling for violence against minorities — allegedly by Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh, the report cited “current and former” Facebook employees as saying that Das’s intervention is part of a “broader pattern of favouritism” by the company towards the ruling party.

Citing the WSJ report, the Congress Sunday demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe. Addressing a press conference, Congress spokesperson Ajay Maken said: “We want to ask the BJP…tell us Rashmi Das, who was a president of ABVP’s JNU unit, what is her relation with Ankhi Das, Facebook India’s Public Policy Director, how is she related to her?”

Opinion | The echo chamber strikes back

Rashmi Das was unavailable for comment.

“The report says action was not taken because of the business interests of Facebook, we would also like to know what are those business interests which are stopping Facebook and Whatsapp. Is there any deal that you vitiate the atmosphere in India…polarise society on the basis of caste and religion which is the agenda of the BJP and the RSS…and in return for that we will help you make gains in India’s market?” Read in Bangla

“Whatsapp has applied for a license for Whatsapp Pay. What is the deal for that license…what are the conditions?” Maken said at a press conference with his party’s Technology and Data Cell head Praveen Chakravarty and social media head Rohan Gupta.

Read | Bangalore: Police probe motive for post by Congress MLA’s kin that sparked violence

The Congress demand came hours after Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad reacted sharply to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi for his tweet: “BJP & RSS control Facebook & WhatsApp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate.”

Prasad tweeted: “Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS. You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us?”

Sources in the BJP referred to the 2019 takedown of more than 700 pages, groups and accounts in India. In the largest crackdown of fake accounts in the country, Facebook had stated that it had detected “coordinated inauthentic behaviour” in these pages, some of which were linked to the Congress IT Cell and and some to Silver Touch Technologies, a company that has worked for the government and the BJP.

Read | Bengaluru violence: Congress corporator’s husband among 60 more arrested

Facebook and other social media platforms have been attacked across political lines in both US and India for their allegedly biased content moderation practices. They have been summoned to Parliamentary committees in India as well as to the US Congress.

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.”

Meanwhile, the Congress party’s demand for a JPC probe has also set off a debate within. A party leader said that a JPC would mean that the ruling party would decide on the chairperson. “Why should there be a JPC now when it is very much the responsibility of the IT committee to look into the issue,” asked a Congress leader. That Tharoor heads this committee is also a point the Opposition underlined.

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