The Quint’s Newsletter: Facebook Courting Controversy, Again

In Facebook’s largest market, India, the company is accused of allowing hate speech by BJP politicians.

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Faced with yet another crisis, Facebook reiterated that it does “prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence”.
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Facebook has a new update.

The social media giant’s India operations are under the scanner (yet again) following The Wall Street Journal's report on alleged pro-BJP bias of its top executive – and its failure to act on hate speech propagated by the party leaders.

The news whipped up a frenzy on social media as well as among lawmakers and political parties. A hackneyed press response from Facebook followed.

Faced with yet another crisis, the platform reiterated that it does “prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence” and that the policies are enforced “globally without regard to anyone's political position or party affiliation”. It, however, has done little to quell the storm of criticism and allegations.

Almost on cue, the issue of hate speech took a sharp political turn with the BJP launching a barrage of attacks on the Congress – and vice versa.

Meanwhile, India, which is Facebook’s largest market in the world with 216 million users, continues to pose risks for user privacy, not to mention surveillance, misinformation and hate speech.

In 2018, Mark Zuckerberg had apologised for the Cambridge Analytica scandal. The data analytics company had harvested data of over 87 million Facebook users globally without their consent and shared it with political parties. Both the BJP and the Congress were named among their clients as nearly 6 lakh Indians were said to be affected.

In October 2019, in a major news break, it was revealed that a spyware called Pegasus was used to remotely hack into the smartphones of at least 121 Indian citizens by exploiting a vulnerability in Facebook-owned WhatsApp. Israeli cyberweapons company, the NSO Group, which makes the spyware, had told The Quint that it only sells Pegasus to governments.

There has been little progress in the investigations into either Cambridge Analytica or into who deployed the Pegasus spyware.

On 17 August, Facebook's Ankhi Das filed a police complaint alleging death threats. Among those named were senior journalist Awesh Tiwari. Tiwari, who is Chhattisgarh chief of Hindi news channel Swaraj Express, denied all allegations and filed an FIR against Das for “spreading communal animosity.” He also told The Quint that Facebook had previously blocked his posts on Pulwama, CAA-NRC and tribal issues, all of which were critical of the Centre.

As the WSJ claims, a question to answer is, are there instances of favourable treatment on election-related issues?

Based on data provided by Facebook in its Transparency Reports and issues previously reported by The Quint since 1 January 2019, there appears to be a crucial distinction between the government and the party for the social media platform.

While Facebook appears stricter in dealing with law enforcement agencies and government bodies, it appears to be much more lenient when it comes to the party in power at the Centre.

SUSHOVAN SIRCAR
SENIOR CORRESPONDENT
@Maha_Shoonya

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