The Shiv Sena on Tuesday alleged that the Bharatiya Janata Party benefitted the most electorally from Facebook by spreading religious hatred since it came to power in 2014. The statement came amid a controversy over an August 14 article in The Wall Street Journal which reported that Facebook ignored incendiary posts by BJP leaders in the run-up to the 2014 Lok Sabha elections.
In an editorial published in Saamana, Shiv Sena’s mouthpiece, the party said that Facebook can be used to express opinions but action should be taken against those who spread hatred. “Facebook cannot turn a blind eye to the person spreading hatred because he is from the ruling party,” it said, urging foreign companies to function according to Indian laws.
“Instead of connecting society, social media is used to spread hatred,” the editorial said. “Today, countless new age [Adolf Hitler’s aide Joseph] Goebbels have their own law, judicial process, prison. Social media is on the payrolls of political parties. In 2014, the social media army had made a big contribution because of which the BJP had won the election under the leadership of [Prime Minister Narendra] Modi,” it said. The editorial said that truth was being twisted and falsehood propagated in the past seven years.
However, BJP’s chief spokesperson Keshav Upadhye dismissed the allegations.
“Such claims made by the Congress or the Shiv Sena are baseless,” he said. “It is far from reality. Before last year’s parliamentary elections, over 700 [Facebook] pages, which had right-wing propaganda, were banned. Today, too, materials written against Modi ji are available on Facebook. The BJP has not benefitted electorally in any way.”
Opposition parties have attacked the central government over The Wall Street Journal report, According to the report, a senior Facebook executive opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, warning that this could hurt the company’s “commercial interests” in India.
On Sunday, the Congress called for a parliamentary panel to investigate what it said was favourable treatment by employees of Facebook overseeing Indian content. After that, Congress MP and Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chairperson Shashi Tharoor said they would like to hear from Facebook about the report.
On Monday, a Delhi Assembly panel said it will summon Facebook officials, especially the company’s Public Policy Director for India, South and Central Asia Ankhi Das. On the same day, Das was named in a first information report along with two others for “inciting communal animosity”.
On Sunday, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi had accused the BJP and its ideological parent Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh of controlling Facebook and WhatsApp in India. “They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate,” he tweeted. “Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook.”