Ravi Shankar Prasad, India’s law and IT minister, on Tuesday slammed Facebook for censuring content posted by people supportive of right wing ideology.
In a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, Prasad said he had been told that Facebook’s India management team had made a concerted effort to censor such content ahead of India’s 2019 election, Reuters reported.
“The above documented cases of bias and inaction are seemingly a direct outcome of the dominant political beliefs of individuals in your Facebook India team,” Prasad wrote in his letter, without citing particular examples.
“Facebook must not only be fair and neutral, but also visibly seen to be so, to users of diverse beliefs and ideologies.”
Prasad, however, did not respond to reports by the Wall Street Journal that revealed how Facebook and Ankhi Das have favoured the ruling party since before they came to power in 2014.
Instead, Prasad alleged that Facebook’s employees “are on record abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior cabinet ministers” while still working in Facebook India and managing important positions.
There have been “multiple instances recently where Facebook has been used by anarchic and radical elements whose sole aim is to destroy social order, recruit people and assemble them for violence. However, we are 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 wrote.
In his letter, Prasad called on Facebook to put in place country-specific guidelines to regulate content.
India is Facebook’s biggest user market with more than 300 million users.
In response to past criticism in India, Facebook has said it is a non-partisan platform that condemns bigotry and that it will continue to remove content posted by public figures when it violates its so-called community standards.
Facebook employees have in recent weeks questioned whether proper content regulation policies were being followed in India, and urged the company to ensure more policy consistency, Reuters has reported.
The Trinamool Congress has accused Facebook Inc of bias towards Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), adding to the clamour of opposition voices which have called out the social media giant for its content regulation practices.
In a letter to Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, West Bengal’s ruling party said the company’s recent blocking of pages and accounts in the state pointed to the links it had with the BJP.
The letter became public on Tuesday, a day before Facebook’s India boss Ajit Mohan was due to appear before a parliamentary panel, to explain his company’s content regulation policies.
“There is enough material now in the public domain, including internal memos of senior Facebook management, to substantiate the bias,” Trinamool Congress spokesman Derek O’ Brien wrote in an Aug. 31 letter to Zuckerberg.
“Please do all it takes to urgently work towards maintaining the integrity of your platform in the Indian electoral process.”
West Bengal will hold state assembly elections early next year.
The WSJ story prompted strong criticism of Facebook and Das, with the Congress Party calling for an investigation. It also pushed parliament’s IT panel, headed by a Congress lawmaker, to summon Facebook.
At the time Facebook responded to WSJ by saying it banned hate speech and violence-inciting content globally without any bias. It also said it conducted regular audits of its processes for fairness and accuracy.
(With Reuters inputs)