Facebook on Monday faced a mounting attack with the Congress and the CPI(M) insisting on a probe by a joint parliamentary committee over the Wall Street Journal’s report that it refused to apply hate speech rules to certain BJP politicians even as the social media giant asserted that its policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.
The Congress alleged that Facebook’s “inaction” against hate content “destabilises democracy” in India and that it was applying different rules for different countries which was “unacceptable”.
In the midst of controversy, Ankhi Das, a senior Facebook executive in India, filed a police complaint, alleging she has been receiving “threats to her life” and that she was intentionally “vilified” following publication of the report.
After Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, said the panel would like to hear from Facebook about the report, a Delhi Assembly panel also said it will summon Facebook officials, including Das , over complaints of “deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content” in India.
In its reaction, Facebook said the company’s social media platform prohibits hate speech and content that incites violence, adding these policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.
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However, Facebook, which counts India among its largest markets globally, acknowledged that “there is more to do”.
In the report published on Friday, the US newspaper cited interviews with unnamed Facebook insiders to claim that one of its senior India policy executives intervened in internal communication to stop a permanent ban on a BJP MLA from Telangana after he allegedly made communally charged posts.
“We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation,” a Facebook spokesperson said.
“While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” the official added.
Echoing the demand of the Congress, the CPI(M) too pressed for a JPC probe into the allegations.
“The Politburo of the CPI(M) strongly condemns the role of global social media behemoth, Facebook, as exposed by the Wall Street Journal, particularly the functioning of its India policy chapter. Facebook is not following its own laid down policy against communal hate content,” the party alleged in a statement.
At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said India is one of the most thriving democracies in the world and anybody or any platform that undermines it by “indulging in hate mongering must not be spared”.
“With all responsibility, I will say that Facebook’s inaction destabilises our democracy. More often than not Facebook takes no action and even worse allows objectionable content to continue despite being brought to notice,” she alleged.
Shrinate also claimed that Facebook has different rules for different countries and “that is not acceptable”.
“The rules for India are dramatically different and are bent as per their convenience. In Singapore while deposing before policy makers, Facebook said they were a social media platform and can’t take down content unless it was brought to notice.
“Ironically in India, despite external complaints and red flags being raised by their own trust and safety teams, hate content has been allowed to wilfully continue,” Shrinate alleged.
She said the social media company has removed pages, issued press releases across the world including the US and Turkey, citing “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, but wondered why it has never done something similar in connection with rumour mongering and hate speeches in India.
“There is enough and more objectionable content that exist on its platform. Some of which incites violence, some of which is abusive against women, some of which targets particular communities and groups,” she claimed.
Shrinate also criticised the government saying instead of responding to the media report in the Wall Street Journal, it is targeting the Congress party.
Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had hit out at the Congress over the issue on Sunday and reminded the opposition party of the Cambridge Analytica issue.
Prasad’s reference to Cambridge Analytica was about the allegations the Congress faced in 2018 that the UK-based firm offered the party data mining of Facebook posts to influencing voters in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Congress had rejected the charges.
Apart from Facebook, the rumour mongering, disinformation and hate speech that go unchecked on WhatsApp are even more damaging, Shrinate said.
“We also expect Facebook global to look into discrepancies that exist in its India operations and we hope Facebook will take immediate remedial measures,” she said.
A duel erupted on Twitter too after Tharoor’s remarks on the Facebook row with BJP MP Nishikant Dubey saying that panels should not be made a political platform by members to satisfy “ego of their respective party leaders”.
Trinamool Congress MP and member IT Committee Mahua Moitra as well as Tharoor slammed Dubey for the remarks, with the Congress leader alleging that Dubey had brought the Committee’s work into disrepute, and that he would take up the matter.
Dubey responded by saying, “Thanks for your comment, time will tell who brought the committee’s work into disrepute Mr. Chairman.”
Wading into the controversy, BJP MP Tejasvi Surya said he will raise the issue Facebook “unfairly censoring” nationalists.
“Many have complained that Facebook is unfairly censoring many nationalist, pro-India or pro-Hindu voices. As member of Standing Committee on IT, I will take it up with concerned in appropriate forum,” he said.
A Delhi Assembly panel on peace and harmony also said on Monday that it will summon Facebook officials over complaints about the social media platform’s alleged “deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content” in India.
“Summons are set to be sent for appearance of the officials concerned of Facebook and more importantly, Ankhi Das, in due course to ensure their presence before the committee for participating in the relevant proceedings and the committee shall convene its meeting this week to initiate the proceedings forthwith,” an official statement said.
Meanwhile, Facebook executive Das, in her complaint, stated that she has been receiving threats ever since the publication of the report.
“The content, which even includes my photograph is evidently threatening to my life and body and I fear for my safety as well as that of my family members. The content also maligns my reputation based on a news article and I am subjected to name-calling, cyber bullying and eve-teasing online,” she said.