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Don’t disturb democracy, Opposition tells Facebook

Our Bureau New Delhi | Updated on August 17, 2020

Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate   -  R_Ragu

Congress said any platform that undermines thriving democracy of India by indulging in hate mongering will not be spared

The Opposition stepped up its offensive against the alleged nexus between the BJP and Facebook and warned the social media platform against undermining the democratic process of the country.

The Congress said anybody or any organisation or any platform that undermines the thriving democracy of India by indulging in hate mongering will not be spared. “Individuals, organisations and platforms including Facebook will be held accountable and questions will be raised. 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,” said Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate.

‘Allowing hate content’

She told reporters here, Facebook also 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 policymakers FB said they were a platform and can’t take down content 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,” she added.

She said across the world in many countries Facebook has removed pages with rumour mongering and hate speeches, but in India it hasn’t done so even though there is enough and more objectionable content on its platform. “Some of which incites violence, some of which is abusive against women, some of which targets particular communities and groups,” she said.

Shrinate added that it’s an issue where the social media platform allows hate to fester, allows divisiveness. “The platform struggles with content moderation and increasingly takes approaches that serve commercial interest. In India the decision to not block right wing hate mongers is obviously steeped in the massive ads these anti-national elements generate,” she said.

‘Possible motive’

The Congress spokesperson said a look at Facebook’s business interests in India explain the inaction against hate speech and attempts to incite violence. “Facebook owned WhatsApp awaits a payment licence. The possible profits in India, a market where the messaging app has 40 crore users is undeniably huge. In fact many have raised eyebrows on the social media giant’s deal with Mukesh Ambani controlled Rel Jio. Facebook bought a little under 10 per cent stake in JIO for ₹43,574 crore which is the largest minority stake investment by a tech company anywhere in the world,” she said.

She said Facebook India has repeatedly refused to act against hate mongers. Referring to the reports that Facebook India’s public policy director Ankhi Das has approached the police against threats on social media against her, Shrinate said similar kind of threats and hate speeches that exist on the social media platform needs to be dealt with decisively. She reiterated Congress’s demand for a JPC probe.

‘Not complying’

The Polit Bureau of the CPI(M) condemned the functioning of Facebook’s India policy chapter. “Facebook is not following its own laid down policy against communal hate content. This confirms the overall apprehensions over the Facebook’s activities across its three platforms: WhatsApp and Instagram,” the party said.

The Left party added that the recent investment of Facebook in Reliance strengthens the apprehension of monopoly control, especially, in the absence of an effective social media internal regulatory oversight. “The huge financial resources at the disposal of BJP aided further by the opaque electoral bonds scheme completely ensures its control over social media. The Polit Bureau calls for an urgent and thorough enquiry into this nexus between Facebook-WhatsApp-Instagram and the BJP; fixing accountability and recommending effective mechanisms for barring these platforms from promoting communal hatred,” the statement said and demanded a JPC probe and added that FB should be barred from operating with any government department or constitutional body like the ECI etc, till the probe is over.

BJP denies

The BJP had denied all such allegations. “Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS,” said Law and IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad retorting to Congress leader Rahul Gandhi. “You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us?,” he asked.

Facebook clarifies

A Facebook spokesperson said the platform prohibits hate speech and content that incite violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. “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 company said. On filing an FIR by the senior executive, it said: “We take the safety and security of our employees seriously and care for their well-being. However, we do not comment on individual employee matters.”

Published on August 17, 2020

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