Facebook staff abused PM, senior ministers: Ravi Shankar Prasad in letter to Mark Zuckerberg

The letter has emerged at a time when the social media platform is in the middle of a raging controversy and has received flak for being biased towards the ruling BJP
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg  (File Photro | AP)
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg (File Photro | AP)

Union Information and Technology Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg over senior officials of the social media network "on record abusing Prime Minister and senior cabinet members."

"I've been informed that in run-up to 2019 LS Polls, there was concerted effort by FB India to not just delete pages or substantially reduce their reach but also offer no right of appeal to affected ppl who're supportive of right-of-centre ideology," Prasad told Zuckerberg. 

Stating that dozens of emails written to Facebook management received no response, he said such "documented cases of bias and inaction are seemingly a direct outcome of a dominant political beliefs of individuals in your Facebook India team".

"People from this political predisposition have been overwhelmingly defeated by the people of in successive free and fair elections.

After having lost all democratic legitimacy, they are trying to discredit India's democratic process by dominating the decision-making apparatus of important social media platforms," Prasad said.

Facebook is the latest tool in their arsenal to stoke internal divisions and social disturbances, the minister pointed out..

The spate of recent "anonymous, source-based reports is nothing but an internal power struggle within your company for an ideological hegemony", the minister said in the letter.

He said no other logic could explain how facts were being spun by the selective leaks from within the company to try and 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," said Prasad, who is also the Law Minister.

Outsourcing of fact-checking to third party fact-checkers is a major issue with Facebook, he said, questioning just how Facebook could absolve itself of its responsibility to protect users from misinformation and instead outsource this to "shady organisations with no credibility".

"We have seen in India that right from the assessors for on-boarding fact-checkers to the fact-checkers themselves, harbour publicly expressed political biases. Regularly vigilant volunteers on social media have to fact-check the fact-checkers!," he emphasised.

Even after on-boarding many fact-checkers, misinformation related to COVID-19 and its aftermath went unchecked, the minister said.

"How can an organisation like Facebook be oblivious to these realities?," he quesioned.

A transnational digital platform with a wide user base cannot remain immune to local sensitivities either, he said, adding that in order to respect the social, religious, cultural and linguistic diversity of India, Facebook needs to put in place country-specific community guidelines.

Facebook has been a novel experiment in democratising the expression of people and giving a platform to millions of ordinary citizens to freely express their views and connect, the minister said.

"I hope that you are cognizant that this experiment should not be allowed to be hijacked by a vested lobby that abhors free speech and tries to enforce one world view and rejects diversity," Prasad added.

The letter has emerged at a time when the social media platform is in the middle of a raging controversy and has received flak for being biased towards the ruling BJP.  Opposition parties are likely to raise the issue of Facebook India's alleged bias towards BJP, and reports of its public policy head Ankhi Das supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and disparaging opposition in internal messages in a meeting of a Parliamentary committee.

The WSJ, last month, reported that Facebook refused to apply hate speech rules to certain BJP politicians, while the social media giant has asserted that its policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.

Following this, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal, in a letter to Zuckerberg, demanded that pending the internal investigation and submission of the report, the company should “consider a new team to lead Facebook India operations so as to not influence the probe”. 

He said the Congress is joined by other leading political parties in expressing fear over Facebook’s purported role in manipulating India’s electoral democracy. “Set up a high-level inquiry by Facebook headquarters into the Facebook India leadership team and their operations and submit a report to the Board of Facebook within one or two months. The report should also be made public,” he said. 

(With inputs from PTI)

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