The Congress on Tuesday wrote to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg to investigate allegations that the social media company’s India team ignored hate speech policy to avoid ruining its relationship with the Bharatiya Janata Party.
Citing a report published by The Wall Street Journal on August 14, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal accused Facebook of “interfering” with India’s electoral democracy and called for a time-bound high level inquiry in the matter.
The WSJ article sparked a controversy after it reported that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in India, opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders, warning that this could hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in India. Das had also not revealed that Facebook had deleted fake news pages connected to the saffron party, according to the report.
“There are clear charges in the article against the leadership of Facebook India of favouring one political party, the BJP, consistently and being complicit in propagating hate speech by political leader belonging to BJP,” Venugopal said in the letter. “This is a damning and serious allegation of Facebook India’s interference in India’s electoral democracy...It also points out that FB India deleted the hate speech posts after investigative inquiries by WSJ, which if true, is clear admission of guilt.”
The party said Facebook’s role in the matter is “deeply disturbing” but not a surprise, adding that they repeatedly have raised the problem of “bias” with many Facebook and WhatsApp executives.
Venugopal asked the social media company to publish all hate speech posts since 2014 that were allowed on the platform. “Set up a high level inquiry by Facebook headquarters into the Facebook India leadership team and their operations and submit a report to the Board of Facebook within one or two months,” he added. “The report should also be made public. Until the completion of the internal investigation and submission of the report, please consider to lead Facebook India operations by a new team so as to not influence the investigation.”
Congress and BJP trade barbs
Former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi said Facebook’s involvement in peddling fake and hate news needs to be questioned by all citizens. “We cannot allow any manipulation of our hard-earned democracy through bias, fake news and hate speech,” he tweeted.
Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad retorted by attacking Gandhi over his comments about Prime Minister Narendra Modi, ANI reported. “In the past, Sonia Gandhi had said this is ‘aar-par ki ladaai’ [final battle] and Rahul Gandhi said ‘public will beat PM Modi with sticks’, Is this not hate speech,” he asked.
On Sunday, Congress seized on the WSJ report to seek a parliamentary investigation of Facebook employees’ alleged ties with the ruling party. A day later, Facebook said it prohibited hate speech and content that incited violence and enforced these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation.