FirstPost – ‘Enough evidence to prove Facebook’s bias towards BJP’: TMC MP Derek O’Brien writes to Mark Zuckerberg

Earlier, the Congress party had written to Zuckerberg, demanding a probe into the alleged bias and interference by Facebook India in the country’s electoral democracy

New Delhi – India, 02 September 2020. The Trinamool Congress has written to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg raising the issue of alleged bias of the social media giant towards the BJP, and claimed that there is enough evidence in the public domain to substantiate this charge.

Party MP Derek O’Brien, who has written the letter to Zuckerberg, also makes a reference to an earlier meeting between the two, where some of these concerns were raised.

“We, the All India Trinamool Congress (AITC), India”s second-largest opposition party, have had serious concerns about Facebook’s role during the 2014 and 2019 general elections in India,” O’Brien wrote in the letter dated 31 August, accessed by PTI.

“With the elections in the Indian state of West Bengal just months away, your company’s recent blocking of Facebook pages and accounts in Bengal also points to the link between Facebook and the BJP.

There is enough material now in the public domain, including internal memos of senior Facebook management, to substantiate the bias,” he wrote.

The Rajya Sabha MP also informed the CEO of Facebook that the matter was raised by the party in Parliament in June last year.

“This was done during the discussion on the Motion of Thanks to the President’s Address. We are enclosing the relevant portion (video) of that Parliamentary speech, along with this letter.

“We were optimistic that the issues and concerns we raised on the floor of Parliament 14 months ago would empower other political parties and the media to also address this substantive issue, he said in the letter, adding, “The recent series of articles that appeared in the BBC, Wall Street Journal, Reuters, Time Magazine and others, vindicates our stand.”

O’Brien also states that he had met Zuckerberg a few years ago and expressed his concerns over some of these issues and urged him “in the interest of transparency, to investigate these serious charges against Facebook’s senior management in India”.

“Please do all it takes to urgently work towards maintaining the integrity of your platform in the Indian electoral process,” the letter states.

Earlier, the Congress party had written to Zuckerberg, demanding a probe into the alleged bias and interference of the social media giant’s India leadership team in the country’s electoral democracy, even as the BJP had taken a swipe at the opposition party, saying any organisation that does not work to its liking is accused of acting under BJP-RSS pressure.

A massive political row broke out after a report by the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) last week alleged that senior Facebook executives had opposed applying hate speech rules to posts by certain BJP leaders.

Last month, a Facebook spokesperson had said, “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.

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.”

The Hindu – Congress reiterates demand for House panel probe into Facebook issue

WhatsApp, which is used by 40 crore Indians has been ‘compromised and controlled indirectly’ by BJP, it alleges

Special Correspondent

New Delhi – India, 29 August 2020. The Congress on Saturday reiterated its demand that the government constitute a joint parliamentary committee to investigate what it called an “unholy intimacy” between Facebook’s India operation and the BJP.

The Congress flagged a Time magazine story which, it said, not only confirmed a piece by The Wall Street Journal but also pointed out that WhatsApp, which is owned by Facebook, also had similar connections with BJP.

WhatsApp, which was used by 40 crore Indians had been “compromised and controlled indirectly” by the BJP, the Congress alleged.

Payment platform

The Time piece claimed that current Public Policy director of WhatsApp Shivnath Thukral, in 2013, used to operate websites and Facebook pages for the BJP. It alleged that WhatsApp was going slow on hate speeches on its platform because it wanted to soon launch its own payment platform.

“There needs to be an exhaustive and unbiased investigation by a joint parliamentary committee between the unending links of Facebook employees and the ruling establishment.

The investigation must include how Facebook manipulated voter opinion, allowed hate speech and was oblivious to fake news, even when they were in clear violation of their regulations,” Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said.

The party demanded that WhatsApp must not be granted approvals for its payment operations until an inquiry is complete.

“We also demand that Facebook should make the investigation ordered into conduct of Facebook India public. Also, include the present set of revelations against the leadership of WhatsApp India as part of the inquiry,” Mr. Khera said.

Party in charge of Data Analytics Department Praveen Chakravarty said “Can we turn a blind eye to an American firm trying to disrupt the communal harmony of our country and interfere in our election process.

This is not a political issue and these are not allegations levelled by the Congress”.

Letter to Facebook

Party general secretary (organisation) K.C. Venugopal, in a fresh letter to Facebook, urged them to reveal what steps it is planning to take to investigate these matters and draw a plan of action to ‘stem the rot in your India operation’.

“We will also be pursuing legislative and judicial actions in India to ensure that a foreign company cannot continue to cause social disharmony in our nation for pursuit of private profits,” he said.

BBC News – Is Facebook favouring the ruling BJP in India?

Soutik Biswas – India correspondent

Did Facebook go easy on hate speech by an Indian lawmaker belonging to the governing BJP to protect its interests in its biggest market? A Wall Street Journal report, based on interviews with current and former Facebook employees, suggests so, and it prompted immediate calls for an investigation.

Soutik Biswas reports on the aftermath.

New Delhi – India, 17 August 2020. In its report, the WSJ said Facebook deleted some hateful anti-Muslim posts by T Raja Singh, a lawmaker from India’s southern Telangana state only after the paper asked about them.

The paper reported that Facebook employees had decided in March that Mr Singh’s post violated the company’s hate speech rules and qualified as dangerous.

But the firm’s top public policy executive in India, Ankhi Das, opposed applying “hate speech rules to Mr Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in the violence”.

Ms Das, the paper said, told employees that “punishing violations by politicians from Mr Modi’s party would damage the company’s business prospects in the country”.

The WSJ report has sparked calls by opposition MPs for investigations into Facebook’s conduct in India.

The leader of the main opposition Congress party, Rahul Gandhi, led the charge. He alleged that the BJP, and its ideological fountainhead, RSS, were

India’s information technology minister Ravi Shankar promptly responded. He alluded to his previous remarks in 2018 about “numerous reports” of Congress involvement with Cambridge Analytica and asking Mr Gandhi to “explain” the company’s role in his social media outreach.

(That year India had taken down the local website of Cambridge Analytica following allegations the company used personal data of 50 million Facebook members to influence the US presidential elections.)

With more than 340 million users, India is Facebook’s biggest market. In April Facebook announced it was investing $5.7bn (£4.6bn) in cut-price Indian mobile internet company Reliance Jio, owned by the country’s richest person Mukesh Ambani.

This would give Facebook a major foothold in India, where its WhatsApp chat service has 400m users and is about to launch a payments service.

I reached out to Facebook with a list of detailed questions. I asked why Facebook had not taken down Mr Singh’s posts earlier, what it did with the lawmaker’s account, and how many pages had been taken down and accounts suspended in India for 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.

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,” a Facebook spokesperson replied in an email response. The firm did not provide any more details.

Separately, Andy Stone, a Facebook spokesman, acknowledged to WSJ that Ankhi Das had “raised concerns about the political fallout that would result from designating Mr Singh a dangerous individual, but said her opposition wasn’t the sole factor in the company’s decision to let Mr Singh on the platform”. Mr Stone told me he had nothing more to add.

The BJP lawmaker T Raja Singh said his official page on Facebook with 300,000 followers was “hacked and deleted” in 2018 and he had complained about it to the local cyber crime detectives. “I don’t know whether it was misused,” he told me.

He said Facebook might have recently taken down pages floated by his followers and containing inflammatory content. He said his followers might have “uploaded hate speech” on these pages.

“Sometimes I go to public meetings and talk in style. My followers might have uploaded those videos”, Mr Singh, the sole BJP legislator in the 119-member elected Telangana state assembly said. Mr Stone told WSJ that Facebook is still considering whether it will ban the legislator.

When I asked him why he would post such incendiary content Mr Singh said: “There are a lot of anti-socials in my area. I counter them in their language, sometimes it is communal”. He said his Instagram account, which was still active, was not being operated by him.

This is not the first time allegations have been raised that Facebook is favouring the governing party.

A series of articles by journalists Cyril Sam and Paranjoy Guha Thakurta in 2018, wrote about the social media platform’s “dominant position in India with more than a little help from friends of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP”, among other things. (The articles also looked at the Congress party’s own “relations with Facebook”.)

The Congress party’s chief of data analytics, Praveen Chakravarty, says he met senior Facebook officials in the US and India in 2018 and “discussed the issue of bias and partisanship of their India leadership team” and denying to accept party advertisements relating to a controversial fighter jet deal by the government. “I was told that it will be looked into but nothing happened,” he says.

Last year, Derek O’Brien, a lawmaker belonging to the opposition Trinamul Congress party, raised the issue in the parliament. “Facebook censors anti-BJP news.

Its algorithm censors anti-BJP news,” Mr O’Brien said in a short speech. When I reached out to him at the weekend, Mr O’Brien said: “There are other important issues to raise in the parliament, but this will not go unnoticed.”

Shashi Tharoor, a prominent Congress MP who heads a parliamentary committee on information technology, says he believes the “recent revelations raise questions that require explanation”.

“The subject is serious because of Facebook’s extensive reach in India and the potential for hate speech to incite violence and other unlawful behaviour. How worrying this is to be determined after a hearing process is concluded, not on the basis of media reports,” he told me.

Chinmayi Arun, a fellow at the Information Society Project at Yale Law School, says it is difficult to assess Facebook’s record without access to the company’s data in India.

“There are contexts in which they have reacted swiftly or improved their policies based on feedback.

But the system for implementation is opaque and one is unlikely to hear about the sort of incident that the WSJ reported unless insiders share information only available to Facebook,” Ms Arun told me.

In its latest biannual Community Standards Enforcement Report, Facebook said it had taken action against more than 20 million pieces of hate speech content that had violated its community standards between January and March.

But in its biggest market, many say the social media behemoth needs to do more.

The Indian Express – #Sikh hashtag ban lifted, but community still looking for answers

The hashtags have been unblocked after three months, but Sikhs unhappy with explanation given by Instagram and Facebook.

Rahel Philipose

New Delhi – India, 15 June 2020. A week since Instagram and Facebook unblocked the hashtags ‘#Sikh’ and ‘#Sikhism’ after restricting their use for nearly three months, many in the community feel they have been left with more questions than answers.

On Friday, members of Facebook’s policy team met with a number of Sikh groups, including SALDEF (Sikh American Legal Defense and Education Fund), International NGO Khalsa Aid and the World Sikh Organisation, to address the issue.

SALDEF Executive Director Kiran Kaur Gill believes that while the meeting was a step in the right direction, a lot of their concerns went unaddressed.

“We met with Facebook yesterday, however they did not answer our main questions. We are happy that they opened a dialogue. We just hope that it leads to actual change and that this type of action does not happen again,” she told

The ‘accidental’ hashtag ban by Instagram and Facebook was not the only instance of Sikh content being censored in the past few weeks. Multiple Sikh content creators and media outlets claim they have been unable to access their social media profiles this month.

The restrictions were not limited to Instagram and Facebook alone, with the homepages of prominent Sikh news channels KTV Global and Akaal channel being blocked on YouTube.

Earlier this month, like other years, thousands of social media users from across the world were using #NeverForget1984 to mark the 36th anniversary of Operation Blue Star and the anti-Sikh riots.

Around this time, many Instagram and Facebook users complained that when they searched for #Sikh and #Sikhism on the social media platforms, an error message popped up informing them that the hashtags had been temporarily restricted.

Prominent Sikh groups and activists were quick to point out the suspicious timing of the incident.

Following the criticism, Instagram on 03 June issued an apology and announced that the hashtags had been unblocked on both social media platforms.

The Facebook-owned photo sharing app revealed that the restrictions had been ‘mistakenly’ imposed over three months ago after a reported post was inaccurately reviewed by their team.

On reaching out to Instagram, was told that the company did not want to comment further on the incident.

Why many felt Instagram’s apology wasn’t enough

Soon after Instagram’s PR arm released the statement earlier this month, SALDEF had launched an online petition demanding that Facebook reveal details of their investigation.

“We realised on June 3, 2020 that the hashtag had been blocked. SALDEF feels that Facebook and Instagram could have had a better system in place that would have caught this mistake before the complete block on #Sikh was imposed,” Gill said.

SALDEF urged Facebook to lay out the steps they claim to have adopted to ensure that an incident like this is not repeated.

Of the five tweets that Instagram shared about the incident last week, the company offered a mere two sentence explanation of how the block was accidentally imposed three months ago.

They claim a single reported post was incorrectly reviewed by their team. But social media users were quick to question how one flagged post could lead to such widespread restrictions on Sikh-related content.

California-based blogger Rupinder Mohan Singh, who writes about Sikh-American issues on his website, felt Instagram was not transparent about the source of the incident who reported the hashtag in the first place?

“The apology is a basic action, but for it to be meaningful, we need to know what/who exactly they identified as the problem, and what steps the platforms are taking to make sure doesn’t happen again.

I also wonder how attempting to censor an entire faith group can happen with such impunity,” he told

“Online bullying, copyright infringement, misleading information and undue influence run rampant on these platforms, and often in sophisticated and automated ways.

These platforms have largely stepped away from the regulating role and as such need to be regulated by a third party and held accountable for what they allow to happen on their platforms, and their performance therein,” Rupinder said.

On 10 June, Sikh-run record label Immortal Productions tweeted that their Facebook page and Instagram account had been disabled without warning.

The devotional music production company claimed that the restrictions, imposed right before their upcoming release, was part of a “coordinated censorship attack” aimed at silencing Sikhs.

In a letter addressed to PM Narendra Modi and Home Minister Amit Shah, UK-based Sikh Council accused the government of silencing Sikh media and urged them to reverse the bans imposed on the Akaal Channel and KTV Global online.

Debates about censorship and regulation on social media have been gaining ground in recent times. Earlier this month, Instagram faced intense backlash after users posting about the Black Lives Matter movement complained that they were receiving ‘action blocked’ messages.

The company said the sheer number of posts being shared with the hashtag had activated its automated anti-spam technology, and added that it was working towards resolving the issue.

The Asian Age – Big technology firms should be stopped from turning the world into a China, Noam Chomsky says

He is referring to China’s social credit system that tracks citizens to award/deduct points on a score determining one’s access to services.

New York – State of New York, 25 May 2020. The role of technology in helping push back against the novel coronavirus has been hailed widely. But it also means that people are constantly being watched by entities that can set the tone for public behaviour without giving a shred of consideration to people’s privacy.

One of the greatest contemporary thinkers, Noam Chomsky, warns of the consequences of technology being allowed to control our lives in the guise of making our lives easier.

In an interview with AFP, Chomsky talked about how the dystopian reality of digital surveillance is already here. “There are now companies developing technology which make it possible for the employer to look at what’s on your computer screen and to check your keystrokes and if you get up and walk away for a minute, they’ll send you a warning.”

“That’s being installed right now, It’s not the future.”

The very things that are convenient are the ones that are invasive, he pointed out. “The so-called Internet of Things is coming along. It’s convenient.

It means if you’re driving home you can turn on the stove, but it also means that that information is going to Google and Facebook, to the government, the American government, the French government, it’s an enormous amount of potential control, surveillance and invasion. But this has happened. It’s not the future.

“If we allow the huge tech companies, the state, to control our life that’s what will happen. They’ll turn it into something like China, where you have social credit systems and in some cities you get a certain amount of credits, there’s face recognition technology all over the place and everything you do gets monitored.

“If you cross the street in the wrong place, you can lose some credits, and so on. “It’s not inevitable, just like global warming, that it’s going to happen, unless people stop it.”

When asked whether the use of surveillance was justified in combating COVID-19, said “It might be, during the period of threat. There’s controls needed during wartime, you have rationing. But it doesn’t have to be permanent. ‘Yes, we’ll let you have this authority now, but it can be revoked at any time.'”

Speaking about other major problems facing humankind, Chomsky said global warming was a greater threat than even the deadly pandemic. “As severe as this pandemic is, it’s not the worst problem.

There will be recovery from the pandemic at severe cost, but there isn’t going to be any recovery from the melting of the polar ice caps and the rising of sea levels and the other deleterious effects of global warming,” he said.

However, it is evident that the public is either not aware or not bothered to see global warming as a serious enough problem.

That kind of a public in the US also voted for a leadership that has proven itself wholly unequal to the task of managing the pandemic in the country where more than 100,000 people have died of it . “There’s no coherent leadership. It’s chaotic.

The presidency, the White House, is in the hands of a sociopathic megalomaniac who’s interested in nothing but his own power, electoral prospects, doesn’t care what happens to the country, the world,” Chomsky said, in scathing criticism of President Donald Trump.

Chomsky spelled out how the administration under Trump never even gave the US a chance against COVID-19. “As soon as Trump came in, his first move was to dismantle the entire pandemic prevention machinery.

At the start, defunding the Center for Disease Control, which would deal with this. And canceling programs that were working with Chinese scientists to identify potential viruses. So the US was singularly unprepared,” Chomsky said.

He explained the economic model that led to the current situation. “It’s a privatised society, very wealthy, with enormous advantages, far more than any other country, but it’s in the stranglehold of private control.

“It doesn’t have a universal health care system. It’s the ultimate neoliberal system, actually.”

He compared it to Europe, which in “many ways is worse, because the austerity programs just amplify the danger, because of the severe attack on democracy in Europe, the shifting decisions to Brussels.”

But he added, “At least it has the residue of some kind of social democratic structure, which provides some support, which is what I think is lacking in the US.”

The Telegraph – The Deep State

Technology giants are turning into sovereign entities

Arghya Sengupta

Op/Ed, 20 May 2020. In my column last year, titled “Countries and companies”, I had written about how tech giants like Facebook were becoming like countries, taking on the mantle of improving lives of billions of people.

In the surest sign yet of this development, Facebook announced the creation of an independent board which would hear cases brought by users against Facebook itself and give binding decisions.

While the board has an innocuous sounding official name, the Independent Oversight Board, in an interview two years back, Mark Zuckerberg had imagined a body such as this as the “Supreme Court” for Facebook.

A Supreme Court for a private organization might seem like a category mistake. After all, courts are institutions of the State, handing down decisions backed by law.

But the creation of an independent judicial forum and giving the forum an evocative dark naam is not oversight. It is a daring play by Facebook to recast itself as a responsible global power with the trappings of a nation-state.

The Board itself is designed to perform two roles, first, in relation to Facebook’s content moderation policies, it gets to hear cases brought by users and Facebook itself.

So if you, as a user, are unsatisfied that your post glorifying Masterda’s audacious armoury raid in Chittagong was taken down by Facebook thinking it amounted to glorification and spread of terror, you can apply to the Board for remedy.

Like a court, a panel of the Board will hand down a decision that Facebook will be bound to follow. Second, on policy questions, such as how Facebook’s content moderation policies are formulated in the first place, it can provide non-binding policy guidance. Facebook has voluntarily agreed to give such guidance its consideration.

Any bold self-regulation of this kind is always welcome. However, it’s what this Board appears to do but will actually not do that makes it seem like a giant public relations exercise.

First, in relation to the Board’s binding decisions, its Charter contains an innocuous clause that these decisions will be subject to a compliance check by Facebook with the laws of the land before being implemented.

This is frankly befuddling. One would have imagined that the least a Supreme Court-like body, co-chaired by a formal federal judge from the United States of America, would have been capable of doing is ensuring that it does not make a decision that itself violates the law.

It is likely that despite its proclamations, the ultimate call on whether to actually implement hard decisions will lie with Facebook itself.

In a similar vein, although the Board has the flavour of an independent adjudicatory institution, cut through the accoutrements and it appears less so.

Decisions will be taken by smaller panels of the Board which will remain anonymous before being submitted to the full Board. There is little as repulsive as having a judicial forum where you don’t exactly know who the judges are.

Even the composition of the Board itself, as Kara Swisher of The New York Times describes it, is “impressively impressive… which is why it is also non-offensively non-offensive”. While it has a galaxy of respected individuals who are thoughtful, humane and credible, the jury is still out on its ability to function independently.

This is not because of the Charter for the Board itself or the document creating an independent trust to control it, both of which scream independence from every sentence.

It’s rather because Facebook must do much more to convince the world that it is an entity that no longer thinks like a social network for students in a Harvard dormitory with nothing more at stake than who pays for the beers at the frat party.

Especially since the ultimate implementation of the decisions of the Board still rests with Facebook, its success will depend critically on whether Facebook, indeed, has grown up as an organization. The proof of the pudding will be in the eating.

This doubt exists for many reasons, prominent amongst which is its record on policies of content moderation. The big question in this regard, one that makes Facebook State-like in the first place, is this: how exactly does Facebook make and apply its content moderation policies?

The rules of posting on Facebook, its community standards, used to be its best-kept secret till the Cambridge Analytica scandal.

After that, the company went on a charm offensive consulting widely in developing and updating these standards. But questions of application of these standards remain opaque.

According to a persistent stream of news reports, the actual task of determining whether content spreads terror, hate and so on and is in violation of the community standards requiring remedy is determined not by Facebook itself but contractors to whom this task is outsourced.

This is a task roughly analogous to what the police force does in every country. An outsourced police force seems like an abhorrent idea.

This is where the real reform is needed, to ensure transparency and fairness in applying its rules. Paying content moderation contractors $28,800 annually, approximately 1/10th of an average Facebook employee (data from The Verge, 2019) while setting up a ‘Supreme Court’ may become a case of pulling the wool over the eyes of the world.

At least for now, in the absence of such real reform, the company will have to do more to convince everyone that it has grown up sufficiently. It would, however, be unfair to single out Facebook as the only tech giant that is enrobing itself with the trappings of the State.

Its more grown-up compatriots, Apple and Google, are going about this same task, albeit much more subtly and smartly.

As a virtual duopoly in smartphone-operating systems (iOS and Android), Apple and Google recently jointly announced a privacy-protecting framework for all contact tracing applications, which detect the spread of the coronavirus and inform at-risk patients.

Applications like Aarogya Setu and other government-owned public health applications in different countries would have to comply with Apple’s and Google’s privacy, security and data control requirements, not the other way around.

Unlike Facebook’s bold public relations play to appear like a responsible State, Apple and Google are actually reversing the sovereign equation, dictating rules to countries without much fuss.

The shrinking of the State from the public sphere, the rapid growth of the internet, the inability of countries to keep up with the innovation of tech giants and the tech giants’ own desires of improving people’s lives through technology are four powerful currents whose confluence has led to these companies taking steps to become sovereign-like.

If my arguments above appear far-fetched, as they might, since a world that has 195 tech giants instead of 195 countries is seemingly far away, consider this, in 2010, Nick Clegg was appointed deputy prime minister of the United Kingdom, the second most powerful man in a country that was for two centuries not very long ago the most powerful in the world.

In 2020, merely ten years later, Clegg has jumped ship, although again as a deputy, this time to Zuckerberg at Facebook. The times they are a-changing.

Arghya Sengupta is Research Director, Vidhi Centre for Legal Policy.
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