Ravi Shankar Prasad writes to Zuckerberg on FB India’s prejudices

New Delhi: While Facebook is already stuck in controversy over its alleged bias towards the Bharatiya Janata Party members, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday wrote to Facebook’s CEO Mark Zuckerberg. He raised “serious concerns” over the “concerted effort” by the platform to “reduce the reach of people supportive of right-of-center ideology.”

In a strongly-worded three-page letter to the Facebook founder, Prasad wrote that the Indian staff of the social-media giant is dominated by people belonging to a particular political belief, whose “political predisposition have been overwhelmingly defeated by the people in successive free and fair elections.” He also highlighted that several of them went on record and abused the Prime Minister and senior cabinet members.

The letter follows two reports by The Wall Street Journal that alleged violation of its own rules for hate-speech by Facebook in India, in favor of those associated with the ruling BJP. The reports brought into limelight Ankhi Das, Facebook’s head of policy in India and her bias against acting against the BJP-leaders.

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 Alluding to media reports in his letter, Mr. Prasad, who holds the portfolio of Electronics and Information Technology and Communications said the spate of recent anonymous, source-based reports are nothing but an internal power struggle within Facebook for ideological hegemony.

The Minister said he has been informed that in the run-up to 2019 General Elections in India, there was a “concerted effort by Facebook India management 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 the right-of-center ideology.” He further wrote “I am also aware that dozens of emails written to Facebook management received no response”. He added that these documented cases of bias and inaction are seemingly a direct outcome of the dominant political beliefs of individuals in the Facebook India team.

Prasad pointed out that there had also been multiple instances recently where Facebook had been used by anarchic and radical elements whose sole aim was to destroy social order, to recruit people, and to assemble them for violence. However, the government was yet to see any meaningful action against such elements. “Is this action also held back by the same vested interest groups who have an incentive in stoking political violence and instability in India?” he asked.

Further, the Minister, in the three-page letter, said that a major issue with Facebook was the outsourcing of fact-checking to the third party fact-checkers. “How can Facebook absolve itself of its responsibility to protect users from misinformation and instead outsource this to shady organisations with no credibility?” he questioned.

“We have seen in India that right from the assessors for on-boarding fact-checkers to the fact-checkers themselves harbour publicly expressed political biases. Regularly vigilant volunteers on social media have to fact-check the fact-checkers! Even after onboarding so many fact-checkers, lot of misinformation related to COVID-19 and its aftermath went unchecked. How can an organisation like Facebook be oblivious to these realities?” the Minister asked.

Meanwhile, the parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology, led by Congress leader Shashi Tharoor has summoned Facebook representatives on Wednesday to hear its views on safeguarding citizens’ rights and misuse of social/online news media platforms.

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