Congress Writes to Zuckerberg on BJP-FB Row, Govt Hits Back

AICC Gen Sec KC Venugopal has suggested a high-level inquiry by Facebook into its India leadership and operations.

Published
India
3 min read
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (L) and Indian Law & IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad (R).
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On Tuesday, 18 August, the All India Congress Committee released a letter they had sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, referring to the Wall Street Journal’s explosive report about how Facebook chose not to take action against Bharatiya Janata Party leaders and affiliates for hate speech, at the behest of policy head Ankhi Das.

The letter, written by General Secretary KC Venugopal, specifically draws attention to the line in the article which states that Das, who works for Facebook India, “has provided the BJP with favourable treatment on election-related issues.”

Terming this a ‘damning and serious allegation’ of interference in India’s electoral democracy by Facebook India, the Congress says it is “deeply disturbing” that Facebook may be a willing participant in the subversion of rights and values that India’s founding fathers fought for.

Venugopal notes that none of this is exactly a surprise: the Congress and other political parties have previously raised the issue of bias “with many executives of Facebook and WhatsApp” and that a detailed investigative article from November 2018 by another news organisation showed the links between Facebook India’s leadership team and the BJP.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi also tweeted out the letter, saying “We cannot allow any manipulation of our hard-earned democracy through bias, fake news & hate speech. As exposed by @WSJ, Facebook’s involvement in peddling fake and hate news needs to be questioned by all Indians. (sic)”

Suggestion for Inquiry

To make amends for all this, the Congress has suggested that Facebook conduct a thorough and impartial investigation and inquiry into the Facebook India operations and practices. They have suggested the following mechanism for this:

  1. Facebook headquarters should set up a high-level inquiry into Facebook India’s leadership team and their operations. Their report should be submitted to Facebook Inc (the FB parent company) within one or two months, and should also be put out publicly.
  2. Facebook should transparently put out details of all the hate speech posts since 2014 that were allowed on the platform.
  3. While the inquiry is going on, Facebook India’s operations should be led by a new team “so as not to influence the investigation”.

The letter concludes by noting that the Congress and other opposition political parties have demanded a ‘Parliamentary Committee Probe’ in India to investigate whether Facebook has interfered in “the world’s largest electoral democracy”.

Government Hits Back

Law and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar responded after the release of the letter, saying: “In the past, Sonia Gandhi had said this is 'aar-par ki ladaai' & Rahul Gandhi said 'Public will beat PM Modi with sticks'; Is this not hate speech?”

Prasad had previously also traded barbs with the Congress on this issue. After Rahul Gandhi had tweeted about the BJP and RSS controlling Facebook and Whatsapp in India and using them to spread fake news and hatred, Prasad had argued that the Congress had been caugh red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to “weaponise data before the elections”.

TMC’s Mahua Moitra Poses Questions for Facebook

Trinamool Congress MP Mahua Moitra, who is a member of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on IT, posted a video to Twitter with some questions to Facebook over the allegations in the article.

Terming the allegations levelled against Facebook “very distressing” for the Indian public and political leaders, she said that such posts had led to loss of life, damage to property and communal violence all over India during the last three years and more.

  • Did Mark Zuckerberg and senior management at Facebook know about this?
  • Since they work with governments and authorities all over the globe to bring down fake content and hate posts, what were they doing in India specifically about this?
  • Do they condone the activities of Facebook India’s public affairs head in acting upon this very serious red flag, as far back as in 2018?
  • Ex-employees of Facebook have reached out informally to say that these issues were raised in internal Q&A sessions at Facebook as far back as 2018, but nothing much was done about this. So why does Facebook follow two different standards in the US and outside when it comes to situations like this?
  • Do Facebook shareholders condone the company’s behaviour which is violating both US law, Indian law and completely goes against every standard operating protocol that the company follows in the US, when it comes to India?

“I think that Facebook has a lot to be accountable for, not just to the Parliamentary Standing Committee, but to the public of India, and the sooner these answers come, I think the better it would be,” she concludes by saying.

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