The Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in West Bengal has written to Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg, saying there is enough material available in the public domain to substantiate allegations of the social media company’s bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, PTI reported on Wednesday.
This is the third letter written to Zuckerberg in three weeks by Opposition parties in India, accusing Facebook of political bias. The Congress wrote two such letters on August 18 and August 29. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology has summoned Facebook representatives for a discussion on Wednesday.
TMC MP and party spokesperson Derek O’Brien, who wrote the letter on August 30, stated that Facebook also removed accounts of hundreds of party’s supporters for violating its community standards in the run up to its Foundation Day last month.
“We, the All India Trinamool Congress, India’s second-largest opposition party, have had serious concerns about Facebook’s role during the 2014 and 2019 elections in India,” O’Brien said. “With the elections in the Indian state of West Bengal just months away, your company’s recent blocking of Facebook pages and accounts in Bengal also points to the link between Facebook and the BJP. There is enough material now in the public domain, including internal memos of senior Facebook management, to substantiate the bias.”
The MP attached a list of the blocked accounts in his letter, urging the social media giant to take immediate action and remedial measures, according to Hindustan Times. O’Brien also made a reference to an earlier meeting between him and Zuckerberg, where some of these concerns were raised.
On Tuesday, Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Zuckerberg and alleged that Facebook employees were abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior Cabinet ministers on record. Prasad also accused the social media company of censoring content from people supportive of right-wing ideology.
Contrary to the Union minister’s allegations, several reports 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. 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 the social media platform’s advertising spending tracker.
The Facebook controversy
There is a growing controversy in India over how Facebook regulates its political content. The crisis started after The Wall Street Journal reported on August 14 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 Time magazine on August 27, Congress General Secretary KC Venugopal last week alleged 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.
The Congress has asked Zuckerberg 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”.
However, Facebook has said it prohibits hate speech that incites violence and enforces policies without regard to political position or party affiliation. Facebook India head Ajit Mohan had on August 21 said they will eliminate content even from Indian public figures if they violate its community standards.