BJP, RSS control FB, alleges Rahul; BJP retorts, cites 2014 Cambridge Analytica data scandal
A major controversy has erupted over a report in the Wall Street Journal that social media giant Facebook ignores cases of hate speech and objectionable content from leaders and workers of the ruling BJP for fear of antagonising the Modi Government.
The Congress flagged the article as evidence of the alleged social media manipulation by the BJP. The ruling party hit back citing the Cambridge Analytica data scandal of 2014 to question Congress track record. The article titled Facebook Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics said the Facebook India executive opposed a move to ban a controversial BJP politician over his hate speech though the FB internal meetings was in favour of such action.
Accusing the BJP and the RSS of controlling Facebook and WhatsApp in India and alleging that the two had attacked democracy in the country, the Congress demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee probe into the controversy. “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,” Congress leader Rahul Gandhi said sharing the article that has mentioned direct involvement of the party in the system.
The grand old party also accused the Facebook of ignoring several complaints lodged both at their US and Indian offices by meeting the management personally on many occasions including United States in 2018, but they did not pay heed to it and now with the publication of an article in a US-based newspaper, the Congress has turned the heat on social media giant and the BJP.
Unleashing a counter-attack on the Congress, Union Minister for Electronics and Information Technology and Communications Ravi Shankar Prasad said Rahul and his party had no moral right to question the BJP because they themselves faced the charge of having used online platforms to influence elections in India.
“Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by the BJP and the RSS. You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica and Facebook to weaponise data before the elections and now have the gall to question us?,” Prasad tweeted in response to Rahul.
In 2018, a whistleblower Christopher Wylie had told the British lawmakers that he believed that the UK-based Cambridge Analytica had dealing with the Congress party in India. Cambridge Analytica was accused of data breach to influence the US polls.
Prasad also slammed Rahul for not condemning the recent communal violence in Bengaluru. “The fact is that today access to information and freedom of expression has been democratised. It is no longer controlled by retainers of your family and that is why it hurts. But, haven’t yet heard your condemnation of the Bangalore riots. Where did your courage disappear?,” Prasad asked in his second tweet addressed to Rahul.
Taking to Twitter, Rahul shared the article by WSJ . The report alleged that the Facebook ignored hate speeches by BJP Telangana MLA T Raja Singh and others. The social media giant is ignoring all these hate speeches to avoid the damages to its business prospects, the report added.
Facebook’s senior India policy executive Ankhi Das had reportedly blocked the call for banning Singh from the social media platform and intervened when the MLA’s hate posts were flagged. Singh, who represents Goshamahal Assembly constituency in Hyderabad, had made communally sensitive posts on Rohingyas saying they should be shot dead.
He had also called Muslims traitors and threatened to raze mosques.
The Congress alleged that Ankhi Das of Facebook India has provided the BJP with favourable treatment on election related issues”. Das is the Public Policy Director, Facebook-India, South and Central Asia.
Outraged by the surfacing of the article, the Congress used the instances of the USA Congress summoning Facebook CEO Marc Zuckerberg in course of probing the FB role in alleged election manipulation. The United Kingdom too had issued warnings to Facebook. The party also mentioned that Facebook has been accused in Brazil of similar interference.
“I am not saying this. The Congress is not saying this. A respected American newspaper is saying this. This is as crystal clear about Facebook’s interference in Indian elections as there can be, Maken said joined by Congress Social Media head Rohan Gupta and Data Department Head Praveen Chakraborty.
“The party pointed that it is not just about Facebook since Facebook also owns Whatsapp. “Facebook and Whatsapp control information, news and communication for hundreds of millions of Indians. And the BJP controls Facebook and Whatsapp in India,” said the Congress leaders.
Senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor and a well known Twiterrati also flagged the issue. “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology would certainly wish to hear from @Facebook about these reports & what they propose to do about hate-speech in India,” said the former Union Minister.
His party colleague Jairam Ramesh called Facebook “greatest carrier of lies” and termed it a “lethal threat to social harmony and reasoned debate.” Ramesh also said that Parliament must institute an inquiry into FB’s practices.
Monday, 17 August 2020 | PNS | New Delhi
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