'Facebook deleted right-wing pages before 2019 polls': Ravi Shankar Prasad writes to Mark Zuckerberg

Prasad has written the letter in the backdrop of growing criticism against the Centre over two recent reports in the Wall Street Journal

FP Staff September 01, 2020 21:09:50 IST
'Facebook deleted right-wing pages before 2019 polls': Ravi Shankar Prasad writes to Mark Zuckerberg

Facebook's management in India deleted pages supportive of right-of-centre ideologies and did not offer the right to recourse for affected people, Union Minister for Information and Technology Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday alleged in a letter to the social media giant's CEO Mark Zuckerberg.

Prasad has written the letter in the backdrop of growing criticism against the Centre over two recent reports in the Wall Street Journal and a Delhi Assembly panel recording depositions of expert witnesses over complaints about Facebook's alleged "intentional inaction to contain hateful content" in India and a possible role in the Delhi riots.

While one report detailed alleged efforts made by Facebook's policy director for India and South and Central Asia Ankhi Das to help the BJP win the 2014 national election, another report said she had opposed applying hate-speech rules to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, as well as posts by a BJP politician.

Referring to these allegations, Prasad said in the letter on Tuesday, "The spate of recent anonymous, source-based reports is nothing but an internal power struggle within your company for an ideological hegemony... No other logic can explain how facts are being spun by the selective leaks from within your company to portray an alternate reality. This interference in India's political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable."

As reported by Bar & Bench, the letter further contended, "As a transactional digital platform, Facebook must not only be fair and neutral, but also (be) visibly seen to be so, to users of diverse beliefs and ideologies. Individuals working in any organisation may have their individual likes and dislikes, but that must not have any bearing on the public policies and performance of the organisation."

Prasad also alleged, "I have been informed that in the run up to the 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 the right-of-centre ideology. I am also aware that dozens of emails written to Facebook management received no response. The above documented cases of bias and inaction are seemingly a direct outcome of the dominant political beliefs of individuals in your Facebook India team.”

The Union minister said that Facebook should not be "hijacked by a vested lobby that abhors free speech, tries to enforce one worldview and rejects diversity."

Opposition raises the heat against Facebook

Opposition leaders have severely castigated Facebook in recent days over the Wall Street Journal reports.

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday claimed that international media has "exposed" Facebook and WhatsApp's "brazen assault" on India's democracy and social harmony, as he demanded an investigation into the allegations against them.

A Delhi Assembly panel Monday recorded depositions of expert witnesses over these complaints and decided to summon Facebook officials in its next meeting.

"The committee through its Chairman Raghav Chadha has prima facie found Facebook complicit in Delhi riots of February 2020 on the premise of incriminatory material produced on record by the witnesses as well as their scathing depositions before the Committee, and thus deciding to summon the Facebook officials in its next meeting in order to examine them on oath and determine on their culpability," an official statement said.

With inputs from PTI

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