Probe sought into Facebook’s ‘interference’ in India’s electoral democracy

New Delhi, Aug 18 (efe-epa).- India’s main opposition party on Tuesday sought investigations into Facebook’s alleged interference in the country’s electoral democracy by allowing hate speeches by leaders of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s party on its digital platform.

In a letter to the social media giant’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg, the Indian National Congress alleged that Facebook “may be a willing participant in thwarting the very rights and values that our founding leaders sacrificed their lives for.”

Citing an Aug.14 report in the Wall Street Journal about Facebook India’s “blatant bias and dubious practices in content regulation”, senior Congress leader KC Venugopal said there were clear charges against Facebook India’s leadership favoring the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party consistently and “being complicit in propagating hate speech by political leaders belonging to the BJP.”

The WSJ report had claimed that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public-policy executive in the country, had opposed applying the hate-speech rules to at least four Hindu nationalist individuals, including a BJP leader, and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in violence.

Das, whose job also includes lobbying with the Indian government on Facebook’s behalf, had reportedly told staff members that punishing violations by politicians from Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in India, Facebook’s biggest global market by the number of users.

Taking a strong note of the allegations, the Congress party’s three-page letter to Zuckerberg said Das had provided the BJP with favorable treatment on election-related issues.

“This is a damning and serious allegation of Facebook India’s interference in India’s electoral democracy.”

The letter was shared on Twitter by Congress leader and lawmaker Rahul Gandhi, the scion of the Nehru-Gandhi family that has for decades been at the helm of the country’s oldest political party.

The government hit back at the Congress party and said that Rahul and his mother, party president Sonia Gandhi had publicly given hate speeches in the past.

“All the people irrespective of their political ideologies have right to speak on public platforms. Some people think that only they should have the monopoly over these public platforms even though their political existence has been decimated,” BJP leader and Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad tweeted.

Prasad in another tweet said that access to information and freedom of expression had been democratized.

“It is no longer controlled by retainers of your family and that is why it hurts,” he said, in reply to Rahul Gandhi’s tweet.

The Congress demanded that the Facebook headquarters set up a high-level inquiry into their leadership and operations in India in a time-bound manner, and publish and make transparent all instances of hate speech allowed on the platform since 2014.

The letter said that other Indian political parties had also raised the issue in the country’s parliament earlier and demanded a probe by an empowered panel of lawmakers into “this very serious issue of Facebook’s interference in the world’s largest electoral democracy.”

Facebook has denied the accusations and said it prohibited 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’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” a Facebook spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.

The damning allegation against Facebook, which has over 300 million users in India, comes months after the social media firm bought a nearly 10 percent stake worth $5.7 billion in the tech subsidiary of India’s Reliance Industries.

Facebook is looking to leverage its massive WhatsApp user base of 400 million people to launch digital payment services in a country that has over 60 million small businesses. EFE


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