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Congress steps up attack on Facebook; accuses it of ‘inaction’ on hate content

Facebook’s “inaction” against hate content “destabilises” democracy in India, the Congress alleged on Monday, sharpening its criticism of the global social media giant after a US media report claimed that it refused to apply hate speech rules to certain BJP politicians.

In its reaction to the swirling controversy fuelled by the report in the Wall Street Journal, Facebook said the company’s social media platform prohibits hate speech and content that incites violence, adding these policies are enforced globally without regard to political affiliation.

However, Facebook, which counts India among its largest markets globally, acknowledged that “there is more to do”.

In the report published on Friday, the US newspaper cited interviews with unnamed Facebook insiders to claim that one of its senior India policy executives intervened in internal communication to stop a permanent ban on a BJP MLA from Telangana after he allegedly made communally charged posts.

The Congress on Monday reiterated its demand for a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) into the charges mentioned in the report.

At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Supriya Shrinate said India is one of the most thriving democracies in the world and anybody or any platform that undermines it by “indulging in hate mongering must not be spared”.

“With all responsibility, I will say that Facebook’s inaction destabilises our democracy. More often than not Facebook takes no action and even worse allows objectionable content to continue despite being brought to notice,” she alleged.

Shrinate also claimed that Facebook has different rules for different countries and “that is not acceptable”.

“The rules for India are dramatically different and are bent as per their convenience. In Singapore while deposing before policy makers, Facebook said they were a social media platform and can’t take down content unless it was brought to notice.

“Ironically in India, despite external complaints and red flags being raised by their own trust and safety teams, hate content has been allowed to wilfully continue,” Shrinate alleged.

She said the social media company has removed pages and issued press releases across the world including the US and Turkey, citing “coordinated inauthentic behaviour”, but wondered why it has never done something similar in connection with rumour mongering and hate speeches in India.

“There is enough and more objectionable content that exist on its platform. Some of which incites violence, some of which is abusive against women, some of which targets particular communities and groups,” she claimed.

Responding to the media report and the subsequent controversy, a Facebook spokesperson said, “We prohibit hate speech and content that incites violence and we enforce these policies globally without regard to anyone’s political position or party affiliation.” “While we know there is more to do, we’re making progress on enforcement and conduct regular audits of our process to ensure fairness and accuracy,” the spokesperson said.

Shrinate also criticised the government saying instead of responding to the media report in the Wall Street Journal, it is targeting the Congress party.

Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad had hit out at the Congress over the issue on Sunday and reminded the opposition party of the Cambridge Analytica issue.

Prasad’s reference to Cambridge Analytica was about the allegations the Congress faced in 2018 that the UK-based firm offered the party data mining of Facebook posts to influencing voters in 2019 Lok Sabha polls. Congress had rejected the charges.

Apart from Facebook, the rumour mongering, disinformation and hate speech that go unchecked on WhatsApp are even more damaging, Shrinate said.

“We also expect Facebook global to look into discrepancies that exist in its India operations and we hope Facebook will take immediate remedial measures,” she said.

Congress leader Shashi Tharoor, who heads the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, has said the panel would like to hear from Facebook about the report.

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