India opposition seeks probe into Facebook’s ties with Modi’s BJP

Congress calls for parliamentary panel to investigate Facebook and WhatsApp employees’ relations with right-wing party.

India's Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, second from left, and India Head of Public Policy Ankhi Das, extreme right [File: Praveen Negi/India Today Group via Getty Images]
India's Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad with Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg, second from left, and India Head of Public Policy Ankhi Das, extreme right [File: Praveen Negi/India Today Group via Getty Images]

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

Citing a report published by the Wall Street Journal on Friday, the party said employees of Facebook and WhatsApp overseeing Indian content had refused to bar a legislator from Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party who had posted incendiary comments to protect the company’s “commercial interests”.

Facebook deleted the posts instead, the Congress party said.

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The WSJ report said hateful posts by at least two other senior Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) politicians were also deleted after the newspaper made queries about them with the social media company.

“Congress party demands the setting up of a joint parliamentary committee to probe the relations of Facebook and WhatsApp employees with the ruling party,” Ajay Maken, spokesman of the Congress party, said at a news briefing on Sunday.

The WSJ report said Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, refused to apply the company’s hate speech rules to some BJP politicians and other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups”.

Maken urged the company to launch an internal inquiry into its Indian oversight team. “This is an issue of Facebook’s global credibility,” he said.

On Twitter, the former Congress party president, Rahul Gandhi, said the BJP and its ideological mentor, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (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 posted.

In response, Communications and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad accused the Congress of “weaponising” social media data before last year’s parliamentary elections.

Facebook said it banned hate speech and content that incited violence and enforced these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation.

“While we know there is more to do, we are making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” it said.

Facebook Inc’s WhatsApp, which counts India as its biggest market with 400 million users, is waiting for regulatory clearances to launch a payment platform.

The company recently invested $5.7bn in Reliance Industries’ digital unit, with the aim of serving tens of millions of small shops across India.

Source : Al Jazeera, News Agencies

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