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Congress Writes to Mark Zuckerberg over 'Interference', Demands Probe into Conduct of Facebook India's Team

Ankhi Das with Mark Zuckerberg. (Image: Facebook)

Ankhi Das with Mark Zuckerberg. (Image: Facebook)

The move came after a report claimed that a high-ranking Facebook India official was opposed to applying hate speech rules to four individuals and groups with links to the BJP.

The Congress on Tuesday wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, accusing Facebook India of "interfering" with the country's electoral democracy, and demanded a time-bound high level inquiry into the conduct of Facebook India leadership team and their operations.

The move came after an August 14 article published in The Wall Street Journal claimed that Ankhi Das, Public policy director of Facebook India, South and Central Asia, was opposed to applying Facebook's hate speech rules to four individuals and groups with links to the BJP. The article stated that despite being internally flagged for promoting violence, she was against applying the rules due to business imperatives.

The article stated that Das had told staff members that punishing BJP politicians for these violations would be detrimental to the "company’s business prospects in the country, Facebook’s biggest global market by number of users.”

In a letter to Zuckerberg, Congress general secretary KC Venugopal on Tuesday demanded that pending the internal investigation and submission of the report, the company should "consider a new team to lead Facebook India operations so as to not influence the probe".

"Set up a high level inquiry by Facebook headquarters into the Facebook India leadership team and their operations and submit a report to the Board of Facebook within one or two months. The report should also be made public," Venugopal said in the letter. The Congress and other opposition parties have attacked the social media giant after a US media report alleged that Facebook did not apply its hate speech rules on BJP leaders.

In its response, Facebook on Monday 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".

Facebook "may be a willing participant in thwarting the rights and values that the founding leaders of the Congress sacrificed their lives for", Venugopal said, asking the US firm to publish all instances of "hate speech posts since 2014 that were allowed on the platform". The WSJ article mentions hate speech of at least three other politicians that were wilfully permitted by Facebook India, he said.

Venugopal cited the WSJ article of August 14 about alleged FB India's "blatant basis in content regulation" and said "it was not a surprise revelation". He said Congress has repeatedly raised the issue of "bias" with many Facebook and WhatsApp executives.

He said other political parties have raised the issue in India's Parliament, adding that the Congress has separately demanded a probe by a Parliamentary Committee in India into "this very serious issue of Facebook's interference in world's largest electoral democracy".

Venugopal said the Congress is joined by other leading political parties in "expressing fear over Facebook's purported role in manipulating India's electoral democracy".

Das on Monday filed a complaint with the Delhi Police against a number of people who allegedly issued "violent threats" to her online. In her complaint, Das mentioned Facebook and Twitter accounts that had allegedly threatened her - some even using her photos - and said that they were a result of the WSJ article.

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