Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday wrote to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, rebuking the social media giant’s senior employees for allegedly “abusing” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several Cabinet ministers on record, ANI reported.
His sharp letter to Zuckerberg came amid a political row over reports of the social media giant’s alleged nexus with the Bharatiya Janata Party and its inaction on hate posts by the party’s leaders.
“It is problematic when Facebook employees are on record abusing the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet ministers of India while still working in Facebook India and managing important positions,” Prasad, who also holds the Electronics and Information Technology portfolio, said in his letter. “It is doubly problematic when the bias of individuals becomes an inherent bias of the platform.”
Prasad alleged that in the run up to the 2019 Lok Sabha Elections, Facebook’s management in India made an effort to “not just delete pages or substantially reduce their reach but also offer no recourse or right of appeal to affected people who are supportive of the right-of-centre ideology”.
The Union law minister said there were “credible reports” to show that the Facebook India team “is dominated by people who belong to a particular political belief”. “People from this political predisposition have been overwhelmingly defeated in successive free and fair elections,” Prasad said, in an apparent reference to the Congress.
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Prasad said that “selective leaks” from Facebook were trying to portray an alternate reality. “The deeply entrenched vested interests aren’t satisfied with the shrinking space of one side of the spectrum in India and want to throttle it completely,” he added. “No other logic can explain how facts are being spun by selective leaks from within your company to try and portray an alternate reality.”
The Union minister added that there was an “internal power” struggle in Facebook for ideological control. He alleged that Facebook was being used by “anarchic and radical elements” to destroy social order.
Contrary to the Union minister’s allegations, several reports have emerged of Facebook favouring the BJP. According to one such report, Facebook removed 14 of the 44 pages flagged by the BJP for being opposed to it in January 2019. Currently, 14 of these pages are no longer on the social media platform.
The official account of Bhim Army, satire site “We hate BJP”, unofficial pages supporting the Opposition Congress, and another page called “The Truth of Gujarat” which shares mostly fact checks, were among those flagged by the saffron party. The pages taken down by Facebook India included those in support of journalists Ravish Kumar and Vinod Dua.
The Facebook controversy
Facebook India is in the midst of a political crisis after The Wall Street Journal reported that the company’s India policy head Ankhi Das had opposed the idea of removing incendiary posts by BJP leaders, warning that this could hurt their “commercial interests”. Das had also not revealed that Facebook had deleted fake news pages connected to the saffron party, according to the report.
Citing another report published by the Time magazine on August 27, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal had said on Saturday that the BJP had been allowed to exercise control of Whatsapp’s India operations. Facebook, the largest social media company in the world, also owns WhatsApp, the most popular social messaging app in India.
Last week, the Congress wrote to Zuckerberg, the second time in a fortnight, asking what steps the social media company took to investigate allegations that its India team ignored hate speech policy to avoid ruining its relationship with the BJP. The party also accused WhatsApp’s India team of allowing the messaging app for hate speech and consequent “tearing of India’s fabric of social harmony”.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has summoned Facebook representatives for a discussion on September 2 about allegations of not applying hate-speech rules to BJP leaders. The Delhi Assembly’s panel on Peace and Harmony has also decided to summon Facebook officials late last month.
It has also emerged that the BJP was the top advertiser on Facebook on “social issues, elections and politics” over the last 18 months, according to Facebook’s advertising spending tracker.
Facebook India, on the other hand, had said on August 21 that it was an “open, transparent and non-partisan platform” which denounces hate and bigotry in any form. The social media platform’s India head Ajit Mohan said the company will eliminate content even from Indian public figures if they violate its “community standards” as there is “no place for hate speech” on it.