NEW DELHI: Amid a raging controversy over Facebook's alleged political bias and interference in India's democratic process, the social media giant has told the Congress that it is non-partisan, denounces hate and bigotry in all forms and strives to ensure that its platforms remain a space where people can express themselves freely.
Responding to concerns raised by the opposition Congress, Facebook's Public Policy, Trust and Safety Director Neil Potts has said that it has taken the party's allegation of bias very seriously and will ensure that it remains non-partisan and is committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity.
The Congress accused Facebook of interfering in India's democratic process and social harmony and being soft on members of the ruling BJP while applying its hate-speech rules.
The Congress had written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg after reports by the Wall Street Journal and the Time magazine about the conduct of Facebook and WhatsApp India's leadership team flagged bias and proximity with the ruling BJP.
"We take seriously the concerns and recommendations you raised on behalf of the Indian National Congress. First and foremost, we want to take this opportunity to state that we are non-partisan and strive to ensure that our platforms remain a space where people can express themselves freely.
We take allegations of bias seriously and want to make clear that we denounce hate and bigotry in all forms," Potts said in the letter, dated September 1.
In his letter to AICC general secretary (organisation) K C Venugopal, who had written to Zuckerberg twice, Potts said, "On the question of hateful content by public figures, we want to assure you that our Community Standards prohibit attacks against people based on their protected characteristics, including religion, caste, ethnicity, and national origin.
In line with our hate speech policy, we have removed and will continue to remove hateful content by public figures in India on our platforms.
" Facebook is at the centre of a raging political debate in the country with both the ruling BJP and the opposition Congress accusing it of colluding and influencing opinion.
The BJP has accused the social media giant's employees of supporting people from a political predisposition that lost successive elections, and "abusing" Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers.
In a three-page letter to Zuckerberg, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad flagged the social media platform's alleged "bias and inaction" by individuals in the Facebook India team on complaints by people supportive of right-of-centre ideology.
The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology had also called representatives of Facebook to hear their views "on the subject of safeguarding citizens' rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space".
Facebook's India head Ajit Mohan appeared before the panel on Wednesday.
In his letter to the Congress, Facebook's Potts said, "To reiterate, we are committed to maintaining the highest levels of integrity in the way we operate and in fostering an environment of free and safe expression on our platforms.
" The Facebook official said as part of its policy development process, it consults a community of external voices, including civil society organizations, academics, and subject experts, besides also relying extensively on inputs from a broad cross-section of internal teams who understand both local and global contexts in the enforcement of our policies on hate speech and dangerous organizations and individuals.
Facebook said it has a team with deep expertise on terrorism and organized hate, who pay attention to global and regional trends and advise on these matters.
"These decisions are not made unilaterally by any one person; rather, they are inclusive of different views from teams around the company, a process that is critical to making sure we consider, understand, and account for both the local and global contexts," the company said.
Congress's Data Analytics department head Praveen Chakravarty said Facebook has acknowledged and responded to concerns of the Congress about interference in India's affairs and has promised corrective measures, but awaits further concrete measures.
He said this was not a political issue and it was about India's democracy and use of digital weapons to disrupt India's social order by a foreign company, at the behest of certain individuals in their leadership team.
"The Congress party will await further concrete action from the global leadership of Facebook and demonstration of specific corrective measures being undertaken in Facebook and WhatsApp India.
It must be reiterated that the media revelations on this issue were based on solid documentary evidence of internal communication and are hence incontrovertible," Chakravarty said in a statement.
Earlier, the Congress had demanded a joint parliamentary party (JPC) probe into Facebook India's role in interfering with the country's democratic process and a criminal investigation against Facebook India's leadership.