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Home >News >India >Parliament’s IT panel to step up scrutiny of FB over political bias

Facebook, Inc. remains in the crosshairs of the Indian parliament with the standing committee on information technology (IT) set to meet representatives of the social media platform for a second time on 15 December. The panel is likely to raise concerns over political bias, content regulation and data safety.

The company has been under scrutiny ever since The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) reported on 14 August that it ignored internal recommendations to remove hate speech by a Bharatiya Janata Party lawmaker. Facebook claims its content moderation policy is unbiased and does not favour any political party.

The parliament panel, led by Shashi Tharoor, had met Facebook executives on 2 September. The joint parliamentary committee (JPC) on personal data protection, too, grilled Facebook representatives on related issues on 23 October.

“In our previous meeting with Facebook, several members had given written questions seeking replies on issues related to political bias, data safety and safeguards put in place. In our next meeting on 15 December, the focus will be on assessing their replies and raising any follow-up questions that may arise. What is also significant is that some top-level changes have happened in its India team so scrutiny could get stepped up," a person aware of developments said requesting anonymity. Facebook declined to comment on the story.

Ankhi Das, Facebook’s India chief for public policy, named in the WSJ report for trying to stop the removal of hate content, quit her job on 27 October amid increasing criticism.

“Representatives of Facebook will give their reply to our questions both written and during the meeting. We will decide if we are satisfied with their replies on the allegations of bias. Facebook has been facing several allegations about favouritism and members will have to decide if they are satisfied. It is possible that members would suggest what steps the Union government should take to ensure fair play by social media platforms," said a second person.

“It is also possible that members will ask further questions to representatives of Facebook and would want them to return before the parliamentary panel at a later date. Scrutiny of the answers given by the officials of Facebook would be the focus of the meeting," the second person said. The probe by the committee led by Tharoor, a senior Congress leader and former Union minister, too had sparked a controversy, with the panel’s BJP members demanding his removal from the post. However, all members later agreed to hear views of Facebook representatives.

“The change of guard in its India team is enough indication that the line of questioning of the IT panel has been in the right direction. There is widespread criticism against them which even their American headquarters seems to be taking note of. There is a view that another meeting following the one next week could be called if some follow-up questions need answering," another person added. Officially, the agenda of the IT committee’s meeting next week is “Evidence of representatives of Facebook on safeguarding of citizen rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security in the digital space". This is similar to the September meeting’s agenda, indicating the scrutiny has continued despite reconstitution of all parliamentary committees earlier this year.

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