Unholy Alliance: After WSJ Expose, Congress Up in Arms over BJP-Facebook Links

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Facebook has often been accused of hypocrisy and feigning ignorance about the hate speeches by people in power as also of helping to amplify violence against Muslims

Zafar Aafaq | Clarion India

The recent Wall Street Journal (WSJ) expose on Facebook being biased towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) by bending its hate-speech rules against a party leader for his anti-Muslim post has triggered a political storm in India with the main opposition party, the Congress, demanding a thorough probe.

The investigative report has also brought under spotlight the role of the tech giant in helping the saffron party during the 2019 parliamentary elections.

The Parliamentary Committee on Information Technology headed by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor will look into the WSJ report and write to Facebook to seek its review. The Indian Express reported that the committee was going to write to Facebook on Monday for explanation and also summon the company.

According to the WSJ report, Ankhi Das, Facebook’s public policy director for India, opposed the recommendations of the staff to ban BJP leader T Raja Singh from the platform permanently for writing posts that, the Facebook internal inquiry said, was found to incite violence against Muslims. Das had argued that the move would prove costly for the company businesswise in India, Facebook’s biggest user base globally. The report found that Das’s intervention pointed to the “broader pattern of favouritism” by the social media company towards the Hindu nationalist party.

A day after the report was published, Congress President Rahul Gandhi reacted strongly by lashing out at the tech giant saying Facebook was being controlled by the BJP in India.

However, IT minister Ravi Shankar Prasad shot back by calling Gandhi a loser who could not influence people even in his own party.

Amit Malviya, chief of BJP’s IT cell, denied that the party was aligned with Facebook. He said that the social media giant had removed 700 pages related to the party during the 2019 election campaign.

The Congress demanded a joint parliamentary committee probe. Party general secretary Ajay Maken held a press conference on the issue that has caught national attention. He said: “Congress Party demands the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee to probe the relations of Facebook and WhatsApp employees with the ruling party.”

Praveen Chakravarty, another Congress leader, also released a video on Twitter discussing the “unholy nexus between Facebook India’s leadership and the BJP and the RSS”. He gave three instances of his meetings with Facebook on behalf of the Congress. “I discussed the issue of bias and partisanship of their India leadership team. I was told this will be looked into but nothing happened.”

Chakravary also spoke of his meeting with Ankhi Das that took place in October 2018. “We specifically highlighted how Facebook India is blocking the Congress Party and denying permissions to put advertisements on Facebook regarding the Rafale issue. We also raised many instances and cases of clear bias and presented very clear evidence. Ms Das pleaded ignorance and promised to look into the matter. Nothing happened.”

Maken brought up the name of Rashmi Das and asked about her BJP connection and her relation with Ankhi Das, who is accused of being close to the ruling party.

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) also issued a statement condemning the role of Facebook as reported by WSJ. Demanding a probe into the “nexus,” the party called for “fixing accountability and recommending effective mechanisms for barring these platforms from promoting communal hatred,”

The party laid stress on an effective social media internal regulatory watch.

RTI activist Saket Gokhale posted a tweet informing netizens that Rashmi Das was former JNU head of ABVP, the pan-India student wing of the BJP. He revealed that Rashmi was Ankhi Das’s sister.

Sakhet also revealed that Rashmi wrote a news article about Facebook’s business deal with Reliance Jio, the telecom company of Mukesh Ambani, who is believed to be close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Facebook has often been accused of hypocrisy and feigning ignorance about the hate speeches by people in power as also of helping to amplify violence against Muslims.

In October last year, Avaaz, an internet advocacy group, released a report exposing how Facebook was being used as an effective tool by xenophobes to amplify hatred against the minority population, particularly Muslims in Assam.

The report referred to as many as 800 posts filled with abuses and insults targeting ethnic minority Muslims. Abusive words like “parasites,” “rats” and “rapists” were liberally used in these posts, which were shared 99,650 times, garnering some 5.4 million views.

The report accused Facebook of not doing enough to curb hate speeches in Assam even as the group flagged 213 of the clearest examples of venom-spewing.

In 2018, investigations by media and independent groups found that Myanmar’s military generals used Facebook to incite genocidal violence against the Rohigya Muslim minority. After this, Facebook admitted that its platform was used to incite violence in Myanmar and said that it did not do enough to prevent it.

As the debate following the WSJ report continued, Facebook stated that it followed the policy on hate speeches “without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation”. NDTV quoted a Facebook spokesperson saying, “While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conducting regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”

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