Recently, a fresh controversy erupted in between two political rivals of India. BJP and INC were among the top political spenders in the recent Lok Sabha elections (2019) in which BJP won a huge mandate. The Wall Street Journal report sparked a new controversy when it alleged that Facebook’s top public policy executive in India had opposed applying hate-speech rules to BJP politicians.
As soon as the report was out, INC didn’t waste the opportunity to square off with the BJP and demanded an enquiry into the allegations by writing to the CEO of Facebook, Mark Zukerberg. This is the big social media controversy after the most infamous Cambridge Analytica case in which the INC and JDU were alleged to be clients of the Indian arm of the data analysis company.
BJP has refuted all the allegations while senior BJP leader and Union Minister Shri RS Prasad accused INC leader Rahul Gandhi on twitter: “Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP and 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?” This reply came when Rahul Gandhi posted on Twitter that Facebook India works under the control of RSS and BJP. On the other hand, BJP has also accused Facebook of being biased against it.
Amit Malviya, who handles BJP Social Media Cell tweeted: “Meet Vijaya Moorthy. Supposedly, heads government outreach at Facebook. Worked with Rahul Gandhi’s team for nearly a decade (love for his former boss still going strong)… Talk about Congress-Facebook nexus? Well, it seems Congress is running Facebook!“
There are several pages and posts which are intentionally posted and run against specific communities. This is not the first time that Facebook is under attack. The New Zealand Mosque attacker was online on Facebook when he was executing his plan. It was after the attack that Facebook took down that brutal video of killings.
In India, there are a lot of fake news pages which intentionally cause enmity between different groups. Such pages became extra active when India scrapped article 370 and passed the CAA last year. The fake news about the Indian Army and its operations in Jammu and Kashmir is also common on Facebook, but they seem to be inactive to block and take down such pages.
These pages, if not few, are based in Pakistan Occupied Jammu and Kashmir. On the other side, there are pages which frequently post fake Indian “historical facts” about late Jawaharlal Nehru. “Facebook was subverting India’s Democracy & Electoral Process. Shocking & gory details revealed by @wsj_com. If this is not ‘Criminality’, what is? Nothing short of a ‘full independent investigation’ will unravel all the layers of BJP-Facebook nexus,” Congress’ chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted.
A Facebook spokesperson said, “We prohibit hate-speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position/party affiliation. We’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness & accuracy.”
Mark Zukerberg’s statement in September 2018 on elections and Facebook: “One of our most important efforts is finding and removing fake accounts. We’ve found that fake accounts are the source of much of the abuse of our services, including during elections.“
Facebook should work on its policies and take down all the pages and accounts which pose a threat to India’s integrity and unity. To address this issue, the Union minister of IT, Shri Ravishankar Prasad has written a letter to Facebook. The letter says:
“Individuals working in any organisation may have their individual likes or dislikes, but that must not have any bearing on the public policies and performance of the organisation. It seems from credible media reports that Facebook India team, right from the managing director to other senior officials, is dominated by people who belong to a particular political belief.“
He continues, “No other logic can explain how facts are being spun by selective leaks from within your company to try to portray an alternate reality. This interference in India’s political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable. This collusion of a group of Facebook employees with international media is giving a free run to malevolent vested interests to cast aspersions on the democratic process of our great democracy. I would like to point out that there have also been multiple instances recently where Facebook has been used by anarchic and radical elements whose sole aim is to destroy social order, to recruit people and to assemble them for violence. However, we are yet to see any meaningful action against such elements. Is this action also held back by the same vested interest groups who have an incentive in stoking political violence and instability in India?”
Facebook and social media in general, nowadays, is so powerful that it can turn the election in favour of someone. Political parties are spending a lot of money on social media advertisements and promotions even when elections are not in play. It is indeed true by looking at the current circumstances in the country that the BJP is wary of the opposition.
Facebook should work hard on this and maintain a safe and secure social atmosphere free from hate on its site while investigating the allegations from both the INC and BJP as this is necessary to maintain the trust of Indian people and its reliability and transparency.