Facebook’s team that deposed before the panel on Wednesday was led by its India head Ajith Mohan. The sitting lasted for more than two hours. Sources said IT panel chief Shashi Tharoor, Karti Chidambaram and Syed Naseer Hussain (all Congress MPs) asked FB officials about a news report claiming that Facebook refused to remove Bajrang Dal’s post from its platform. This led to a series of questions from Congress and BJP members.
Mohan and other officials put it on record that no content posted by Bajrang Dal had been found objectionable or inflammatory by the Facebook fact-checking team, sources said. “The Facebook team said this was the reason why the content was not removed and underlined that it would not be removed in the future,” the sources said.
BJP MP Nishikant Dubey referred to tweets by Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on the Wall Street Journal report and asked if Facebook would act on the matter if Bajrang Dal’s content wasn’t objectionable. BJP’s Rajyavardhan Rathore also raised questions on the issue. The officials said they would look into the matter.
WSJ had recently reported that Facebook feared a crackdown on hate groups could backfire on its staff in India. The Facebook security team was reportedly of the view that action against Bajrang Dal might endanger company’s projects and staff. Doing so may precipitate physical attacks against Facebook personnel, the report said. Bajrang Dal’s parent organisation VHP has said it will take legal action against Facebook on the basis of the news report.
Several MPs asked why Facebook “does not take suo motu cognisance on such a content as immense damage can be done during crucial periods like elections”. FB representatives said it was not possible to check every post, leading members to quip whether Facebook considers itself a publisher or a mere intermediary for sharing information.
A few members felt there was some interference by Facebook in the number of times some posts were shared. They felt the social media site “tries to suppress some posts from getting shared widely”.
The question of partisanship also came up, with both BJP and Congress charging Facebook for favouring the other. BJP members asked Facebook to share details of six employees who were earlier associated with Congress, leading the latter to seek details of all Facebook employees posted in India and their antecedents. Earlier, Facebook employee Ankhi Das had faced the heat over not taking action against right-wing groups posting hate content. It was alleged that Das was close to BJP. She has quit Facebook.
When members asked Facebook officials about the fact-checking process, they were informed that the head of the team is based in California. The members expressed their concern on the issue, saying he or she may not be aware of the Indian community standards. “They also posed questions on how many layers of fact-checking is practiced by the site and expressed their dismay that this is done only once,” the sources said.
Other questions were on data safety and whether it’s stored within the country or abroad, the revenue model and whether it pays taxes in India.