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The Facebook logo (REUTERS)
The Facebook logo (REUTERS)

Political tussle over Facebook deepens in Parliament’s IT committee

  • The social media platform was represented by Facebook’s India head Ajit Mohan and Shivnath Thukral, the public policy director
  • According to a report in The Wall Street Journal on 13 December, safety team of Facebook had earlier this year believed that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India

NEW DELHI : The parliamentary panel on information technology (IT) is heading towards another political tussle among its members with the standing committee on Wednesday questioning representatives of social media platform Facebook on allegations of political bias, following a 13 December report in The Wall Street Journal that the social media giant was reluctant to act against the Bajrang Dal because of concerns over the security of its staff.

This comes against the backdrop of an earlier report in WSJ on 14 August suggesting that the social media platform ignored internal recommendations to remove hate speech by a Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) lawmaker.

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On Wednesday, the parliamentary committee chaired by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor questioned Facebook, represented by its India head Ajit Mohan and public policy director Shivnath Thukral, about the 13 December report. Some members of the panel, however, alleged that the National Democratic Alliance (NDA) was being maligned.

“The recent report by WSJ on Bajrang Dal came up for discussion and some of the members feel that there is political bias against the organisation and there is a deliberate attempt to malign the image of the ruling NDA. We are not happy with the replies given by Facebook and have asked for a detailed reply on specific questions raised by members of the standing committee and not give unsatisfactory replies to the panel," a member of the panel said, on condition of anonymity.

“The standing committee on information technology is being used for political gains by some of the members of the committee. We have highlighted this earlier also and would continue to do so," another panel member said.

According to the 13 December report, the safety team of Facebook had earlier this year “concluded that Bajrang Dal supported violence against minorities across India" and qualified as a dangerous organization that should be banned from Facebook. The Bajrang Dal is an affiliate of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideological parent of the BJP.

This was brought up for discussion by Tharoor and Congress leader Karti Chidambaram during the meeting on Wednesday. The panel questioned the representatives of Facebook on the allegations made by WSJ that there was an internal assessment of Facebook that demanded a ban on the Bajrang Dal, but the social media platform had not cracked down on the organization because of financial considerations and concerns over the safety of its employees.

In August too, the standing committee was a divided house soon after the WSJ report was published. MPs of the Congress and the BJP had given lists of questions to representatives of Facebook and wanted them to give written replies as members of the panel were not satisfied with the oral replies given by the representatives of the social media platform.

However, when representatives of Facebook had appeared before the standing committee on IT, they claimed that their content moderation policy was unbiased and did not favour any political party.

Facebook on Wednesday said it is committed to transparency and allowing people to express themselves. “We thank the honourable parliamentary committee for its time. We remain committed to be an open and transparent platform and to giving people voice and allowing them to express themselves freely," a Facebook company spokesperson said in an emailed response to Mint.

Saumya Tewari and PTI contributed to this story.

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