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Parliament Panel Sets Sept 2 Date With Facebook Over Hate Speech Row

Parliament Panel Sets Sept 2 Date With Facebook Over Hate Speech Row

The committee has also asked representatives of the MeitY to remain present

Shashi Tharoor-led panel to discuss on the subject of “safeguarding citizens” rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms  

Troubles began for Facebook after a report alleged that the social media giant’s India’s head of public policy prevented takedown of hate speech  

More troubles are on the anvil for Facebook India as the company’s representatives have been asked to meet the parliamentary standing committee on information technology headed by senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, on September 2. The summons follows a row over the social media giant’s alleged inaction in certain hate speech cases involving BJP politicians and leaders, reported NDTV.

Besides representatives of Facebook, the committee has also asked representatives of the IT ministry to remain present on September 2 to discuss 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”.

The notice comes in the middle of a battle within Facebook with its employees across the globe questioning the procedures and content regulation practices followed by the India team. Nearly 11 employees had also written an open letter to Facebook leadership asking them to denounce “anti-Muslim bigotry” posts made by BJP politicians.

Troubles mounted for Facebook after a Wall Street Journal report published on August 14 alleged that the social media giant’s India’s head of public policy Ankhi Das allegedly prevented takedown of hate speech content posted by members of the ruling BJP, even if it conflicted with the organisation’s global guidelines on hate speech.

The letter by Facebook employees also demanded that its policy team in India and other regions should include diverse representation. The open letter read, “It is hard not to feel frustrated and saddened by the incidents reported … We know we’re not alone in this. Employees across the company are expressing similar sentiment…The Muslim community at Facebook would like to hear from Facebook leadership on our asks.”

According to some existing and former Facebook employees, Das reportedly told staff members that punishing the violations by leaders from BJP would damage the company’s business prospects in the country. Notably, India is the biggest global market for Facebook in terms of users, with 336 Mn active Facebook users and over 400 Mn WhatsApp users.

A Facebook spokesperson, Andy Stone, acknowledged that Das had raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Singh a dangerous individual. But Stone also mentioned that her opposition wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Singh remain on the platform. The spokesperson said Facebook is still considering whether a ban is warranted.

Meanwhile, the peace and harmony committee of Delhi legislative assembly has decided to summon Ankhi Das, the director of public policy at Facebook India over posts and contents that fuelled discontent among citizens during the major riots in Delhi in late February.

“Summons are set to be sent for appearance to the concerned officials of Facebook in due course to ensure their presence before the committee for participating in the proceedings and the committee shall convene its meeting this week to initiate the proceedings forthwith,” Chadha said after the meeting on Monday (August 17).

Will Facebook Earnings Take A Hit?

With a slew of controversies in the past two months — and high-profile incidents on Facebook related to the recent Black Lives Matter protests in the US — Facebook has not only earned the ire of users and politicians. In the past two months, popular brands like Diaego, Airtel, PepsiCo, Coca Cola and Adidas have reportedly reduced their advertising on Facebook and Instagram in India. The move is in line with their parent companies’ decision to avoid being related to objectionable content. Advertising is the largest contributor to Facebook’s revenue, the company reported its ads revenue to be over $70 Bn in 2019.