The controversy over Facebook’s alleged BJP “bias”, triggered by a Wall Street Journal report, is showing no signs of dying down. After allegations that the social media giant went easy on hate speeches made by BJP leaders, Congress MP and information technology (IT) parliamentary committee head Shashi Tharoor had said he would summon Facebook executives over the issue. But BJP MP Nishikant Dubey claimed on Monday that the rules do not allow this.
In the meantime, Ankhi Das, Facebook’s director of public policy for India, South Asia and Central Asia — who is named in the WSJ report — has filed a police complaint alleging threats to her life. Meanwhile, Das has been named in an FIR filed on Monday in Chhattisgarh’s Raipur.
Delhi Assembly’s Peace and Harmony Committee has also said it will summon Facebook officials after having received several complaints.
Facebook, on the other had, had claimed that it prohibited hate speech, but admitted that it had more to be done.
Here’s everything you need to know on this issue:
Can IT panel chief summon FB executives?
While it was reported on Monday that the Parliamentary IT panel would write to Facebook, BJP MP Dubey claimed on Twitter that the “Chairman of Standing Commitee does not have the authority to do anything without discussion of the agenda with its member”.
However, TMC MP Mahua Moitra, who is also part of the panel, replied to Dubey’s tweet, pointing out that the chairperson did have the power to summon people and schedule items.
Tharoor added his two bits, saying that Dubey was bringing disrepute to the committee by claiming he had ulterior motives.
Former Lok Sabha secretary general P.D.T Achary confirmed this to the Hindustan Times. He said, “The chairperson can request a third party to come and offer an explanation. It then goes to the secretariat for approval.”
The BJP’s big guns have been defending BJP’s conduct in the matter. On Sunday, IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad uncharitably called Rahul Gandhi a “loser” for questioning the BJP. BJP MP and former minister Rajyavardhan Singh Rathore wrote an op-ed in The Indian Express where he cited George Orwell’s 1984 to claim that there was “an organised assault by the Left-Congress ecosystem” on Indians’ right to free speech”.
Ankhi Das claims threat to life
“Since August 14, I have been receiving violent threats to my life and body, and I am extremely disturbed by the relentless harassment meted out to me by the accused persons. The content, which even includes my photograph, is evidently threatening to my life and body and I fear for my safety as well as that of my family members. The content also maligns my reputation based on a news article and I am subjected to name-calling, cyber bullying and eve-teasing online,” The Indian Express quoted her complaint as saying.
According to the WSJ report, Das stopped hate speech rules from being applied to at least four leaders associated with the BJP. This includes
Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh and MP and former Union minister Anantkumar Hegde.
Das reportedly told employees BJP politicians would damage the company’s “business prospects” in India.
FIR names Das
The Chhattisgarh police have registered an FIR that names Das and two others. It was reportedly filed based on a complaint from journalist Awesh Tiwari on Monday.
Hindustan Times reported that the two others are Mungeli resident Ram Sahu and Vivek Sinha from Indore.
The report said they have beeb booked under Sections 295 (a) (deliberate and malicious acts that are intended to outrage religious feelings of any class by insulting its religion or religious beliefs), 505 (1) (c) (with intent to incite, or which is likely to incite, any class or community of persons to commit any offence against any other class or community); 506 (criminal intimidation), 500 (defamation) and (acts done by several persons in furtherance of common intention) of the Indian Penal Code.
Facebook’s claim: ‘We prohibit hate speech’
“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,” a Facebook spokesperson was quoted by PTI as saying.
However, the spokesperson said more needed to be done. PTI quoted the official as saying, “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.”
Not everyone is buying their claims. In a sharp editorial published on Tuesday, Hindustan Times said Tharoor was right to demand an explanation from Facebook and argued that “Facebook’s practices have eroded the quality of democracy, not just in India, but elsewhere in the world too”.
Delhi panel wants to summon FB officials
PTI reported that a Delhi Assembly panel on peace and harmony said on Monday that it would summon Facebook officials over complaints about the social media platform’s alleged “deliberate and intentional inaction to contain hateful content” in India.
An official statement by the Delhi Assembly committee stated that after careful deliberation on allegations levelled in the complaints received, the panel, chaired by AAP MLA Raghav Chadha, has decided to take immediate cognisance of this issue.
“In view thereof it compels the committee to take immediate notice and get to the root of this issue with a view to painstakingly discern if there is any role or complicity of Facebook official in the orchestration of Delhi riots,” PTI quoted the statement as saying.
“Summons are set to be sent for appearance of the officials concerned of Facebook and more importantly, Ankhi Das, in due course to ensure their presence before the committee for participating in the relevant proceedings and the committee shall convene its meeting this week to initiate the proceedings forthwith,” the statement said.
(With PTI inputs)