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Ravi Shankar Prasad writes to Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg

Ravi Shankar Prasad.   | Photo Credit: PTI

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With Facebook already facing criticism over the alleged bias towards to Narendra Modi-led government in India, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has written to Mark Zuckerberg, the founder and CEO of the social network, raising “serious concerns” over the “concerted effort” by the platform to “reduce the reach of people supportive of right-of-centre ideology”.

Also read: Congress demands criminal probe against Facebook India

The Minister also highlighted that the India staff of the U.S.-headquartered giant is dominated by people belonging to a particular political belief, whose “political predisposition have been overwhelmingly defeated by the people in successive free and fair elections”, and who on record abuse the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet Ministers of India.

Mr. Prasad also asked Facebook to put in place country-specific community guidelines to respect the social, religious, cultural and linguistic diversity of India.

The letter follows two reports by The Wall Street Journal that allege violation of its own rules for hate-speech by Facebook in India, in favour of some individuals, including those associated with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), after opposition from Ankhi Das, the company’s head of policy in India. The reports also added that Ms. Das, who recently apologised to colleagues for sharing an anti-Muslim post on her Facebook page that called Muslims in India a “degenerate community”, has over the past years shown support for the BJP via posts in a Facebook group for employees.

Also read: Facebook should be treated as co-accused in riots: govt. panel

Alluding to media reports in his letter, Mr. Prasad, who also holds the portfolio of Law and Justice, said the spate of recent anonymous, source-based reports is nothing but an internal power struggle within Facebook for an ideological hegemony. “No other logic can explain how facts are being spun by the selective leaks from within your company to try to portray an alternate reality. This interference in India’s political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable. This collusion of a group of Facebook employees with international media is giving a free run to malevolent vested interests to cast aspersions on the democratic process of our great democracy,” he said.

The Minister said he has been informed that in the run up to 2019 General Elections in India, there was a “concerted effort by Facebook India management 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. I am also aware that dozens of emails written to Facebook management received no response”. He added that these documented cases of bias and inaction are seemingly a direct outcome of the dominant political beliefs of individuals in the Facebook India team.

He added that individuals working in any organisation may have their individual likes or dislikes, but that must not have any bearing on the public policies and performance of the organisation.

“It seems from credible media reports that Facebook India team, right from the India Managing Director to other senior officials, is dominated by people who belong to a particular political belief. People from this political predisposition have been overwhelmingly defeated by the people in successive free and fair elections,” he said, adding that after having lost all democratic legitimacy, they were trying to discredit India’s democratic process by dominating the decision-making apparatus of important social media platforms.

Facebook is the latest tool in their arsenal to stoke internal divisions and social disturbances, he said.

“It is problematic when Facebook employees are on record abusing the Prime Minister and senior Cabinet Ministers of India while still working in Facebook India and managing important positions. It is doubly problematic when the bias of individuals becomes an inherent bias of the platform,” the Minister said.

Mr. Prasad pointed out that there had also been multiple instances recently where Facebook had been used by anarchic and radical elements whose sole aim was to destroy social order, to recruit people and to assemble them for violence. However, the government was yet to see any meaningful action against such elements. “Is this action also held back by the same vested interest groups who have an incentive in stoking political violence and instability in India?” he asked.

Further, the Minister, in the three-page letter, said that a major issue with Facebook was the outsourcing of fact-checking to third party fact-checkers. “How can Facebook absolve itself of its responsibility to protect users from misinformation and instead outsource this to shady organisations with no credibility?” he questioned.

“We have seen in India that right from the assessors for on-boarding fact-checkers to the fact-checkers themselves harbour publicly expressed political biases. Regularly vigilant volunteers on social media have to fact-check the fact-checkers! Even after on-boarding so many fact-checkers, lot of misinformation related to COVID-19 and its aftermath went unchecked. How can an organisation like Facebook be oblivious to these realities?” the Minister asked.

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 10:35:33 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/ravi-shankar-prasad-writes-to-facebooks-mark-zuckerberg/article32499263.ece

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