The Department Related Standing Committee for Information Technology met on Wednesday under the chairmanship of Shashi Tharoor. Facebook India Managing Director Ajit Mohan appeared before the panel on the subject ‘Safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms, including special emphasis on women security in the digital space’.
The tone for the meeting was already set with Information Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad writing to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg that there was a concerted effort by the social media platform to delete pages of right-of-centre ideology. Prasad’s letter to Zuckerberg details instances of bias by Facebook India against the BJP & right wing in general.
The IT minister said the Facebook-related leaks in media are a result of internal ideology war in the social media giant. Also, elements are trying to use Facebook to undermine India’s democratic process, he said.
Wednesday’s panel meeting that went on for two hours and 20 minutes was like a keenly contested match between the BJP and opposition with parliamentarians from both sides asking Facebook of its leanings. Examples of hate speech were cited by both sides, while the opposition cited hate remarks by Telangana MLA Raja Singh and Amit Shah’s speech in Bengal, the BJP spoke of Congress president Sonia Gandhi’s remarks of ‘aar ya paar ki ladai’ and “provocative” anti-CAA remarks made by former JNU student Kanhaiya Kumar.
MPs asked Facebook about what action has been taken and how many of any such action was suo motto. According to sources, representatives of the social media platform said that they do not have any such numbers to quote. However, on most cases, action has been taken only upon getting a complaint.
A heated argument took place over the issue of appointments within Facebook and the leanings of its employees. While Facebook could not answer a question on whether it was helping the government, BJP MPs cited a number of examples to show how appointment within Facebook favoured the Left and Congress ideology.
Sources said BJP MPs spoke about the International Fact Checking Network Committee and appointments by Facebook. Its head Kanchan Kaur has been using “derogatory language” against the ruling dispensation, including attacking PM Narendra Modi.
Appointment of fact-check team member Pratik Sinha has also been seen as a pro-Congress move, BJP MPs said. Facebook India MD Ajit Mohan told the committee that he had earlier worked as a consultant with the Congress in Kerala and was also hired by Mckenzie to work for party-led second UPA government when he was involved with the Planning Commission and Ministry of Urban Development. He also told the committee that he has withdrawn all his articles written against the present-day government and Modi.
Sources said an MP even asked the representative if there was any appointment in Facebook from the BJP, Shiv Sena, VHP, Bajrang Dal or RSS. The company could not provide any such data.
The MPs also asked what action was taken about the setting up of groups like ‘Facebook For Muslims’ by the company’s employees. The social media giant said it has no such policy in place to block or object to such matters.
The committee asked for Facebook to present the CIB resolution to remove content, strangely most of which was done around the general elections in 2019. The cyber cells of state governments had requested Facebook to remove pages.
A group, titled ‘Sikhs for Justice’ had posted a distorted map of India, but it was not removed. The MPs also cited examples of ‘Jai Shri Ram’ and posts of god’s and goddesses being branded as hate posts.
Besides Tharoor, those present in Wednesday’s meeting included Nishikant Dubey, Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore, Mahua Moitra, Sunny Deol, Locket Chatterjee, Nisith Pramanik and Naseer Hussain.
More than 150 questions remained unanswered by Facebook, for which it has agreed to submit a written reply in a consolidated manner. Facebook has one of its biggest business interests in India with over 40 crore users.
The meeting with Facebook remind inconclusive and Tharoor expressed his desire to have another round of talks about the same issue, but it is highly unlikely since his term ends on the September 12 and the committee will be reconstituted soon.