Shashi Tharoor-Led Parliamentary Panel To Hear Facebook Reps Today
Facebook representatives are expected to appear before a parliamentary committee today amid huge controversy over allegations by US publication Wall Street Journal that the social media giant overlooked hate speech posted by leaders of the BJP and right-wing groups. The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology chaired by Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, which considers issues like social media abuse, had asked Facebook India to answer questions raised by the WSJ article.
A notification on the meeting was sent by the Lok Sabha Secretariat last month. Besides representatives of Facebook, the committee had also asked representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology to remain present.
Following the report in the Wall Street Journal, Mr Tharoor said the parliamentary panel would consider getting testimony from Facebook executives. The topic, he said, would be “Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms”.
But his tweet on the matter triggered vociferous protests from BJP members of the panel, who accused him of “flouting rules” to push Congress agenda and demanded his removal.
The political battle over the issue heated up on Tuesday as Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad wrote to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg, alleging that employees of the social media giant “are on record abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior cabinet ministers”.
The Congress hit back with a demand for an investigation by a Joint Parliamentary Committee. “If Modi Govt has an iota of credibility, why doesn’t it agree to a JPC probe into the shameless collusion between #Facebook India & BJP. Why are u running scared?” tweeted senior Congress leader Randeep Surjewala.
Congress’s Rahul Gandhi also demanded an investigation. “International media have fully exposed Facebook’s & WhatsApp’s brazen assault on India’s democracy & social harmony. No one, let alone a foreign company, can be allowed to interfere in our nation’s affairs. They must be investigated immediately & when found guilty, punished,” his tweet read.
The WSJ report last month claimed that Facebook did not apply hate speech rules on members of the ruling BJP and right-wing groups even after the issue was flagged internally. The report also claimed that a senior Facebook India policy executive, Ankhi Das, had told staff that applying hate-speech rules to politicians close to the ruling party “would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”..
In a second report, WSJ alleged that Ankhi Das “made internal postings over several years” detailing her support for the ruling BJP and disparaging Congress.
Facebook – which has more than 300 million users in India — has said its social media platform prohibits hate speech and content that incites violence and these policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.
It has also said the posts by Ms Das do not show inappropriate bias. “These posts are taken out of context and don’t represent the full scope of Facebook’s efforts to support the use of our platform by parties across the Indian political spectrum,” spokesman Andy Stone said.