Is Facebook in India Controlled by BJP? Report Sparks Calls for Probe


Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg in 2015. -Photo credit AP

SRINAGAR: A major controversy has erupted over a report in the Wall Street Journal that social media giant Facebook ignores cases of hate speech and objectionable content from leaders and workers of the ruling BJP for fear of antagonising the Modi Government in India.

India’s main opposition Congress party has now called for a parliamentary panel to investigate what it has described as favourable treatment by Facebook’s India team towards the governing right-wing party.

On Friday, The Wall Street Journal reported that a senior Facebook executive, who oversaw operations in India, had blocked action against leaders associated with the BJP and other Hindutva groups.

Facebook’s top public policy executive in India “opposed applying hate-speech rules” to at least four individuals and groups linked with the BJP despite the fact that they were “flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.

Facebook India’s Public Policy Director Ankhi Das told staff members that “punishing violations” by BJP politicians “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users,” WSJ reported.

Many have accused Das of being a member the Narendra Modi fan club.

Referring to hate-speech — calling for violence against minorities — allegedly by Telangana BJP MLA T Raja Singh, the report cited “current and former” Facebook employees as saying that Das’s intervention is part of a “broader pattern of favouritism” by the company towards the ruling party.

The WSJ report said that internal Facebook staff concluded that the MLA should be banned from the platform under a policy called “Dangerous Individuals and Organizations”.

Reacting to the WSJ  report Rahul Gandhi Sunday alleged that the saffron party controls the social networking site, along with WhatsApp, and uses it to spread fake news in order to influence the electorate.

“BJP and RSS control Facebook and 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,” Gandhi tweeted.

In response Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tagged Congress leader as “losers who cannot influence people even in their own party.

“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?” the minister said.

Ankhi Das (2nd from right) with PM Narendra Modi in 2014 | Via Facebook

Facebook spokesman Andy Stone said Das had “raised concerns about the political fallout” but said her opposition “wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Singh remain the platform.” According to the report, Facebook deleted some of Singh’s posts after a query from WSJ, and said that he was no longer allowed to have an official account.

Facebook was also accused to have favorited the BJP during the 2019 elections.

Congress MP Shashi Tharoor tweeted, “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology would certainly wish to hear from @Facebook about these reports & what they propose to do about hate-speech in India.“

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