Facebook controversy: Enforce the rule of law

Following the major controversy over a US media report saying Facebook did not apply its hate speech rules on BJP leaders; Congress has now shot a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, demanding a probe into the conduct of Facebook India leadership. According to an investigative report in The Wall Street Journal, Facebook in India has been complicit in enabling hate speech. Despite employees of the company repeatedly flagging posts by a set BJP leaders and activists, which would fall within the social media publisher’s own definition of speech inciting violence and promoting enmity between communities, Facebook took no action.
Congress has alleged that the Wall Street Journal article has suggested the Facbook India leadership has provided the BJP with favourable treatment on election-related issues. The party has sought an internal enquiry of Facebook India operations. Taking a step forward in this direction and building more pressure on the union government, Congress leader and chairman of the standing committee on information technology Shashi Tharoor has now announced that he would be taking up this issue in the parliamentary committee.
However, Facebook has so far denied having any ties with BJP. Facebook has 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. Facebook has become a powerful media platform where millions of Indians get their daily dose of news, views and entertainment but isn’t subject to regulations like those governing newspapers. And as a media company, Facebook must fulfill all the legal, regulatory, commercial, and ethical obligations that come with being a publisher. India has been increasingly alert to the dangers of Chinese technological companies for its national security.
Like traditional media, Facebook also presents characteristics of editorial discernment in how its algorithm curates news feeds and its staffers exercise editing rights on fake news and hate content. In this regard, the WSJ report points to the company not doing enough to prevent its platform from being used to harm social cohesion and violate Indian laws. India’s rivals like China and Pakistan are using these platforms to create havoc in the country. In these circumstances, parliamentary committees must investigate Facebook and its claims of prohibiting hate speech irrespective of party affiliations. All political parties must unite in national interest.

- Prabhakar Purandare

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