Parliamentary panel wants to call FB whistle-blowers to depose before it

New Delhi: Some members of a parliamentary panel looking into the issue of hate speech on Facebook on Monday expressed the view that whistle-blowers Sophie Zhang and Frances Haugen, who have flagged bias and lack of proper regulation on the social media platform, be called to depose before it, sources said.

Top officials of Facebook India, including its Public Policy Director Shivnath Thukral, on Monday, deposed before the panel on the subject of “safeguarding citizens’ rights and prevention of misuse of social/online news media platforms including special emphasis on women security”.

In the meeting, some members of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology asked them questions about hate speech in reference to the dossiers shared by Zhang with the committee, sources said, adding that the parliamentarians did not get a convincing response from the executives of the social media giant.

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The members asked specific questions about the kind of mechanism and system the company has in place to identify and remove hate speech content from its various platforms, they said.

During the meeting, many members took the view that both whistle-blowers be called before the panel to brief it about their findings, they said.

The panel is exploring the possibility of calling the whistle-blowers and is likely to seek the Lok Sabha Speaker’s permission, they said.

Haugen, a former Facebook data scientist-turned-whistle-blower, has alleged that the social network giant’s products harm children and fuel polarisation in the United States. She had testified before the US Senate Committee.

Zhang, also a former Facebook data scientist, has reportedly shared a dossier with the panel about the company’s alleged unethical working. She also reportedly had alleged that there was a politically sophisticated attempt to influence the February 2020 Delhi elections.

Responding to the charge that neither Parliament nor the government has called the Facebook whistle-blowers, panel chairman Shashi Tharoor had said in a series of tweets last month that the committee would hold its first meeting after its constitution in November.

As video-conferencing is not permitted under the procedures, testimony in person by witnesses from abroad requires the Speaker’s consent and it is being sought, he had said.

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