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Congress demands JPC probe into Facebook ‘interference’ in elections

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad.  

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Accusing Facebook India of interfering with India’s electoral process, the Congress on Sunday demanded a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to probe allegations, triggering a war of words between the Narendra Modi government and the opposition party.

The latest spat between the two parties follows an investigation published by the Wall Street Journal which reported that officials of Facebook India provided “favourable treatment to the BJP on election related issues” and violated the company’s own guidelines on hate speech by refusing to take down objectionable comments by BJP leaders.

Also read: India’s request for Facebook user data second only to U.S.

Responding to the news report, former Congress chief Rahul Gandhi accused the BJP-Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) of “controlling” Facebook India to spread fake news, hatred and influence the electorate.

Mr. Gandhi tweeted: “BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook.”

He also tagged the WSJ report that said FB India’s top public policy executive, Ankhi Das, had opposed taking down controversial statements of a BJP leader and that she is reported to have told her colleagues that “punishing violations by BJP leaders would affect the company's business in the country”.

In a personal attack, Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad hit back by calling Mr. Gandhi a ‘loser’.

Mr. Prasad accused the Congress of trying to manipulate data with the help of Facebook (FB) and the now defunct political consultancy firm, Cambridge Analytica.

“Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS. You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us?” Mr. Prasad responded to the Congress leader.

Amid the social media storm over the investigative report, BJP’s IT Cell chief Amit Malviya said FB had ‘unilaterally’ taken down 700 pages of their supporters, with millions of followers, just ahead of the 2019 Lok Sabha polls and many of their digital properties were not allowed to “monetize” their content.

At a virtual press conference, senior Congress leader Ajay Maken and the party’s data analytics chief, Praveen Chakravarty alleged that FB India’s actions amounted to interfering with Indian elections.

“We have two demands: first a JPC should be constituted to inquire into all these allegations and second, FB Head Office should conduct their own probe and remove all those who have political links...Why is the government scared of a JPC? Issues raised by Ravi Shankar Prasad can be also be part of the JPC probe,” Mr. Maken said.

“Over the past few years, we had consistently raised the issue of bias and nexus between Facebook’s India leadership team and the BJP. We had many formal meetings with the company,” Mr. Chakravarty said, giving details of three such meetings between 2018 and 2019 with top FB and Whatsapp officials in India and the US.

“What gave Facebook the guts and the gumption to intrude, interfere and intervene in the world’s largest democratic exercise?” he asked.

“I have cited these instances just to show how the story yesterday in the Wall Street Journal is a mere confirmation of what we always knew...There are many others in that leadership team with a close working relationship with people in the BJP,” alleged Mr. Chakravarty.

Countering the allegations, Mr Malviya said, “What constitutes hate speech in India will be decided by our constitutional framework and extant rules. It must he applied fairly to all irrespective of their political affiliation”.


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Printable version | Sep 17, 2021 3:19:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/congress-demands-jpc-probe-into-facebook-indias-interference-in-elections/article32369371.ece

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