Facebook India Head Ajit Mohan on Wednesday appeared before the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology in connection with allegations that the social media giant did not apply hate speech rules to certain leaders from the Bharatiya Janata Party, PTI reported.

Unidentified officials told the news agency that Mohan appeared before the parliamentary panel in the afternoon.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, who is the chairperson of the parliamentary panel, tweeted to say that the meeting lasted nearly three and a half hours. “In response to overwhelming media interest in the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology that just adjourned, this is all I can say: we met for some three and a half hours and unanimously agreed to resume the discussion later, including with representatives of Facebook,” Tharoor said.

Facebook has become the centre of a huge political row in India because of allegations of its nexus with the BJP. Several opposition leaders have questioned the Narendra Modi-led government’s credibility and demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee Inquiry into the matter.

The allegations of Facebook’s bias towards the BJP were uncovered by a report published in The Wall Street Journal on August 14. The report claimed that Facebook’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.

Another news report claimed that Facebook had removed 14 of the 44 pages flagged by the BJP in the run-up to the Lok Sabha Elections. Currently, 14 of these pages are no longer on the social media platform.

The social media giant had clarified last month that it did not support hate speech and bigotry. Mohan had 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 the Facebook’s platform.

Letters to CEO Mark Zuckerberg

Opposition parties have approached Facebook Chief Executive Officer Mark Zuckerberg amid the political storm. Mamata Banerjee-led Trinamool Congress in West Bengal wrote to Zuckerberg on Wednesday, saying there was enough evidence to substantiate allegations of the BJP-Facebook nexus.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, meanwhile, called out Facebook and WhatsApp for their “assault” on India’s democracy and social harmony. The party had also written two letters to Zuckerberg on August 18 and August 29.

Union Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, on the other hand, alleged in his letter to Zuckerberg on Tuesday that Facebook’s senior employees “abused” Prime Minister Narendra Modi and several Cabinet ministers on record.

Prasad also 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.

Also read:

  1. Facebook-BJP ‘nexus’: Sitaram Yechury calls for inquiry, criticises RS Prasad’s letter to Zuckerberg
  2. Congress writes to Mark Zuckerberg again, cites ‘Time’ magazine article on BJP-Facebook relationship
  3. WSJ report: ‘No place for hate speech, denounce bigotry in every form,’ says Facebook
  4. BJP MLA at centre of Facebook row claims his official account was hacked, blocked in 2018