Amid political slugfest, Parliamentary panel to discuss Facebook issue on Wednesday

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NEW DELHI: Amid a political slugfest over the Facebook issue, a parliamentary panel will meet on Wednesday to discuss alleged misuse of the social media platform.

The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, headed by senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, has summoned representatives of Facebook and will hear their views “on the subject of safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space,” according to the agenda of the meeting.

It has also called representatives of the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology on the same issue.

The meeting of the panel was adjourned on Tuesday in view of the national mourning due to the demise of former President Pranab Mukherjee.

Its agenda for the day was suspension of internet services in several parts of the country.

However, panel members were intended to discuss the suspension of internet services in Jammu and Kashmir, a source said.

Tharoor’s announcement that the panel would like to hear from Facebook about the report published in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the social media platform ignored applying its hate-speech rules to politicians of the BJP in India, evoked strong reaction from BJP members of the panel.

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey alleged that the Congress leader has been using the platform to further his and his party’s political agenda and even demanded his removal as chairman of the panel.

A fresh political slugfest has started on the matter as alleging a “nexus” between the BJP and Facebook, the Congress on Tuesday demanded a probe into it, with Rahul Gandhi saying that international media has “exposed” the social media giant’s “brazen assault” on India’s democracy and social harmony.

With his tweet hitting out at the social media giant, Gandhi tagged a recent report by the Wall Street Journal on how questions were raised by Facebook employees on its India team’s neutrality after an executive posted internal messages allegedly favouring the BJP.

“International media have fully exposed Facebook’s and WhatsApp’s brazen assault on India’s democracy and social harmony,” he said.

“No one, let alone a foreign company, can be allowed to interfere in our nation’s affairs. They must be investigated immediately and when found guilty, punished,” Gandhi tweeted.

The Congress also issued a statement on Tuesday saying that as “elucidated” by Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine, Facebook India and WhatsApp have been used to “fire Mr. Modi and BJP’s social media campaign”.

Meanwhile, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a three-page letter to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg, alleged “bias and inaction” by individuals in the Facebook India team on complaints by people supportive of right-of-centre ideology.

“I have been informed that in the run up to 2019 general elections in India, there was a concerted effort by Facebook India management to not just delete pages or substantially reduce their reach but also offer no recourse or right of appeal to affected people who are supportive of right-of-centre ideology,” Prasad wrote.

Tagging Prasad’s letter to Zuckerberg, Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala claimed, “Modi Government comes to the rescue of prejudiced offenders of Facebook India as the ugly nexus is exposed! This is ‘pot calling the cattle black’.”

He also questioned why the Modi government was not agreeing to a JPC probe into the issue.

Dismissing the Congress’ allegations, BJP leaders have been alleging that Facebook favours other parties, with the ruling party’s IT cell head Amit Malviya alleging a “Congress-Facebook nexus”.

The popular messaging app WhatsApp is also owned by Facebook.

Another report in the Wall Street Journal earlier this month and one in the Time magazine had brought to fore similar allegations.

Citing international media reports, the Congress in its statement alleged that Facebook’s global leadership has been aware of the biases and partisanship but remained willing participants, “proving that the unholy nexus between BJP-FB has hit the nerve-centre of our nation’s democratic functioning”.

This blatant “shielding of BJP-leaning Facebook pages” is nothing short of a deliberate attempt to manipulate the public opinion in India, the party alleged.

“The blasphemous nexus between the BJP and Facebook is for all to witness and must be investigated without delay,” it said.

The Congress has written two letters to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg seeking action against its India team, an independent probe into their functioning and replacing them.

Hitting out at the Congress for alleging a nexus between the BJP and Facebook, Malviya had on Saturday said it is not some social media firm but the people of India who have rejected Rahul Gandhi and his party.

After a major political row erupted over the allegations against it, Facebook had earlier said its social media platform prohibits hate speech and content that incites violence, adding these policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.

(With PTI Inputs)

 

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