Indian Gov’t Minister Accuses Facebook of Bias in Deepening Row

In this September 2015 photo, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, right, hugs Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi at Facebook headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu, File)

NEW DELHI, India (AFP) — India’s communications minister on Tuesday accused Facebook of bias against right-wing politics, even after fresh reports about claims that a high-ranking staffer at the social media giant supported the country’s Hindu-nationalist ruling party.

The row erupted after The Wall Street Journal published two reports alleging that Ankhi Das, Facebook’s top public policy executive in India, had expressed support for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party and disparaged the opposition in internal posts.

The Journal reported that Facebook also failed to take action against posts containing hate speech against Muslims by a Hindu nationalist lawmaker out of concern for its business interests in India — the firm’s largest market in terms of users.

Time magazine also published an article last week with similar allegations.

But India’s communications minister Ravi Shankar Prasad claimed in a letter dated Tuesday to Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg that ahead of the 2019 national elections, “there was a concerted effort by Facebook… 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 right-of-center ideology”.

Prasad also alleged in the letter that the recent press reports were the result of “selective leaks… to portray an alternate reality”.

“This interference in India’s political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable.”

Facebook has been under intense pressure to act against hate speech on the platform. 

Ajit Mohan, its India chief, defended the company’s actions and denied any bias. But the company also admitted it had to do better on tackling hate speech.

The Time magazine article said Facebook had commissioned an independent report on its impact on human rights in India before the first of the two WSJ reports was published.

Politicians from the opposition Congress party have accused the company of favouring the BJP. The party said in a statement Tuesday that there was a “blasphemous nexus between the BJP and Facebook”.

“The aim of the BJP is ‘divide and rule’ and the social media giant Facebook is helping them achieve this,” it said in the statement.

Facebook’s Das had told staff that hate speech rules should not be applied to BJP individuals and party allies even though the post had been flagged by staff, the Journal reported.

The company’s executives have been ordered to appear before an Indian parliamentary information technology committee on Sept. 2 over the controversy.


© Agence France-Presse

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