Facebook caught in BJP-Opposition war

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At a more than three-hour meeting of the Standing Committee on Information and Technology on Wednesday, Facebook India officials were caught in the middle of a shouting match between the Opposition and BJP members as each side blamed the social media giant for showing bias towards the other.

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The Facebook team was summoned by the panel on the subject, “Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space.”

Over 100 questions

Over 100 questions were raised by 17 members (11 BJP and 6 Opposition) who attended the meeting, for which Facebook has assured written replies later on.

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According to informed sources, the meeting began with the BJP members raking up the political affiliation of Facebook India’s Managing Director Ajit Mohan. They accused him of having worked in the past with the Congress government both at the Centre and in Kerala.

The Opposition members, meanwhile, pointed out that Ankhi Das, head of Facebook’s public policy in India, was an ABVP member. They also raised the recent articles published in The Wall Street Journal and the Time magazine.

MD clarifies

Mr. Mohan, the sources said, clarified on his political leanings and the anti-BJP articles that he had written in the past. “He conceded that he has worked as a consultant with the Congress in Kerala and while he was working with consultancy firm Mckinsey he has worked in the Planning Commission and the Urban Development Ministry during the UPA tenure,” one of the members said on condition of anonymity.

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The members raised a flurry of questions, including why Facebook didn’t allow live-streaming of anti-CAA protests, about WhatsApp’s role in riots in Delhi and West Bengal. The opposition members also questioned them about the commercial ties with the Ministries of Women and Child Development, Tribal Affairs and the Election Commission. The BJP members, meanwhile, said Facebook had hired Left leaning fact checkers.

Oversight board

Facebook officials defended the company’s record, claiming that globally it had taken down 22.5 million pages in just the second quarter of this year alone. The firm also told the panel that it had instituted an oversight board to do a second round of checks. The Facebook officials said this board followed the global community standards. “We asked Facebook to clarify on how global community standards are applicable to India considering the wide range of religions and castes here,” another member said.

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Chairman of the committee Shashi Tharoor suggested that the Facebook officials should be called for a second round on September 10, a day before the current standing committee’s tenure ends. However, the sources said the BJP members did not relent and said the new committee, whenever it was reconstituted, could take the issue forward.

“We met for some three and a half hours and unanimously agreed to resume the discussion later, incl w/ reps of @Facebook,” Mr. Tharoor tweeted.

Bias alleged

Over the past one week, the BJP, the Congress and the Trinamool Congress have alleged “bias” by Facebook in taking down pages of their supporters and party members. The Facebook team’s deposition comes after a series of articles in international publications pointing out the leniency shown by the social media giant in handling hate speech when it comes to the pages of organisations aligned with the BJP.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2021 7:49:56 AM |

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