Union Law Minister, and a member of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) Ravi Shankar Prasad, in a strongly worded letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday (September 1), has alleged that employees of the social media platform were “abusing” the Prime Minister of India, as well as several cabinet ministers on-record, and called the incident “problematic”.
“It is doubly problematic when the bias of the individual becomes an inherent bias of the platform. And it is unacceptable when political biases of individuals impinge on the freedom of speech of individuals,” the letter read. No specific instances of Facebook employees “abusing” Modi or other cabinet ministers were cited in the letter.
In the letter, Prasad also stated that the social media platform had selectively pulled down content and offered no right of appeal to people supportive of the right-of-centre ideology in India, in the run-up to the 2019 General Elections.
“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,” Prasad wrote in the letter, a copy of which has been accessed by Inc42, alleging that the incidents of supposed bias and inaction from Facebook India were indicative of the dominant political beliefs of individuals working in the company.
Interestingly, Prasad — who also holds the Electronics and Information Technology (IT) and Communications portfolios in the Government of India — has made the allegations of Facebook India employees harbouring a bias against the ruling party, two weeks after the social media giant was implicated in a The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) story for not taking action against hateful content posted by BJP legislators in order to seek favours from the Indian government.
After the WSJ story was published, Facebook was accused by India’s opposition parties, the Indian National Congress (INC) and the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP), of undermining India’s democracy and pandering to the ruling party’s wishes. The Congress even wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, asking the company to initiate a high-level probe into the matter and make the findings public. On the other hand, the peace and harmony committee of the AAP-dominated Delhi Legislative Assembly summoned Facebook India’s Public Policy head Ankhi Das — who was mentioned in the WSJ story — for its probe which sought to investigate whether hateful content on the platform had fuelled discontent, eventually leading to the Delhi riots in late February.
Now, Prasad’s allegations seem to be an attempt to spin the narrative, by accusing Facebook of actually being opposed to the ruling party in India and harbouring an anti-BJP bias. Prasad explained the same in his letter by saying that the recent media reports were a result of “selective leaks” from Facebook, meant to 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,” Prasad added.
The letter, while referring to misinformation related to the Covid-19 pandemic on Facebook, also flagged the platform’s policies of outsourcing fact-checking to third-party fact-checkers. According to Prasad, Facebook can not absolve itself of its responsibility to protect users from misinformation and “instead outsource this to shady organisations with no credibility.”
“How can an organisation like Facebook be oblivious to these realities?” Prasad said in his letter.