India to Investigate Pro-BJP Bias on Facebook

  • Facebook has denied allegations of bias towards BJP, but political controversy has erupted in India over the report.
  • Opposition parties are criticizing BJP and Facebook and BJP are turning back.
  • India is the largest market for Facebook and the WSJ has claimed that the company has done favors for the BJP in many other ways.

Parliament’s standing committee on information and technology will investigate allegations of bias by Facebook on accounts linked to BJP. Chairman of the committee, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor has said that this topic is within the scope of the committee’s work and Facebook will definitely be asked for an answer in this regard.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (“Indian People’s Party,” or BJP) is the current ruling political party of the Republic of India. BJP is a right-wing party, and its policy has historically reflected Hindu nationalist positions.

The US newspaper the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) has claimed in a report that Facebook employees in India had recommended the banning of accounts and pages of certain individuals related to the BJP for spreading hatred, but Facebook’s public policy in India refused to do so.

According to the newspaper, Facebook’s India Policy Head Ankhi Das said that doing so would hurt Facebook’s business in India. Facebook has denied the news. A Facebook spokesperson, Andy Stone, said in an email response:

“We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation. While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy.”

There has been a political controversy in India regarding the report. Opposition parties are criticizing BJP and Facebook.

Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has alleged that “BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India.”  In a tweet, Gandhi said “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.”

Facebook is an American online social media and social networking service based in Menlo Park, California and a flagship service of the namesake company Facebook, Inc. It was founded by Mark Zuckerberg, along with fellow Harvard College students and roommates Eduardo Saverin, Andrew McCollum, Dustin Moskovitz and Chris Hughes.

Denying Gandhi’s allegations, BJP leader and Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said that the Congress itself was caught red-handed with Facebook and Cambridge Analytica misusing data before the last election.

“Sometimes I go to public meetings and talk in style. My followers might have uploaded those videos,” T Raja Singh, the sole BJP legislator in the 119-member elected Telangana state assembly said.

India is the largest market for Facebook, and the WSJ has claimed that the company has done favors for the BJP in many other ways. Ankhi Das was associated with Facebook in 2011, and according to a newspaper report, he has praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his own page on Facebook. According to the newspaper, Das has also expressed anti-Muslim views on his page.

Derek O’Brien, a lawmaker belonging to the opposition Trinamul Congress party, raised the issue in the parliament. “Facebook censors anti-BJP news. Its algorithm censors anti-BJP news. There are other important issues to raise in the parliament, but this will not go unnoticed.”

“There are contexts in which they have reacted swiftly or improved their policies based on feedback. But the system for implementation is opaque and one is unlikely to hear about the sort of incident that the WSJ reported unless insiders share information only available to Facebook,” said Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School.

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Joyce Davis

My history goes back to 2002 and I  worked as a reporter, interviewer, news editor, copy editor, managing editor, newsletter founder, almanac profiler, and news radio broadcaster.

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