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IT Minister Writes to Mark Zuckerberg, Accuses Facebook of Political Bias amid Row over Content

A file photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (AFP)

A file photo of Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg. (AFP)

Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said there are multiple instances where Facebook has been used by radical elements “whose sole aim is to destroy social order”.

Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has written to Facebook Chief Executive Mark Zuckerberg raising concerns over senior Facebook officials “on record abusing Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers”. He said it is problematic when these employees are doing this while still working in Facebook India and managing important positions.

"It is doubly problematic when the bias of individuals becomes an inherent bias of the platform," the minister wrote. The three-page letter came in the middle of a raging controversy about the social media platform being allegedly biased towards the ruling BJP, with Prasad making exactly opposite claims.

He spoke about “a concerted effort by Facebook in the run up the 2019 general elections to 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 centre ideology”, adding that dozens of mails written in this regard to the social media giant has gone unanswered. However, there were attempts through "selective leaks" to portray a different reality, he wrote.

The "interference in India's political process through gossip, whispers and innuendo is condemnable. This collusion of Facebook with the international media is giving free run to malevolent vested interests to cast aspersions on the democratic process of our great democracy," Prasad said.

He said there are “credible media reports” about the Facebook India’s managing director and other senior officials belonging to a particular belief and that people from this political disposition has been “overwhelmingly defeated in successive free and fair elections”.

"Individuals working in any organisation may have their individual likes or dislikes, but that must not have any bearing on the public policies and performance of the organisation," Prasad added.

The Union minister further said he would like to point out multiple instances where the social media platform has been used by radical elements “whose sole aim is to destroy social order” to recruit people and assemble them for violence.

Stating that there is yet to be any meaningful action taken against such elements, he asked if it is being held back by the "same vested groups who have an incentive in stoking violence and political instability in India".

Another issue raised by Prasad is the outsourcing of fact-checking services to third parties, which he called "shady organisations with no credibility". He said that "vigilant volunteers" have to regularly fact check these groups, adding that a lot of "misinformation" about COVID-19 and its aftermath have gone unchecked. He said an organisation like Facebook with transnational presence and wide user base cannot be immune to local sensitivities.

The Congress has been targetting the ruling camp after articles published in US media suggested Facebook's bias towards posts belonging to members of the BJP or right wing groups. A meeting of a Parliamentary committee, headed by Congress MP Shashi Tharoor, is scheduled to be held on Wednesday where the issue of Facebook India's alleged bias towards BJP, and reports of its public policy head Ankhi Das supporting Prime Minister Narendra Modi and disparaging opposition in internal messages, are likely to be raised.

Prasad said it seemed "deeply entrenched vested interests aren't satisfied with the shrinking space of one side of the spectrum in India and wants to throttle it completely."

He said only an "internal power struggle" could "explain how facts are being spun by selective leaks from within your company to try and portray an alternate reality". He ended his letter with an appeal that Facebook puts in place country-specific community guidelines that respect the social and religious diversity of India.

"I hope that you are cognizant that this experiment should not be allowed to be hijacked by a vested lobby that abhors free speech and tries to enforce one world view and rejects diversity," Prasad wrote.

first published:September 01, 2020, 18:20 IST