Facebook at Cross Roads: by Allabaksh & Atul Cowshish

It is not India alone where the social media giant, Facebook, has been accused of right-wing bias that facilitates its business expansion plans in the country; similar accusations have been made in some other countries, including the USA. This raises questions about the claims of FB bosses that they are ‘neutral’ in their political choice and that they do not support hate-filled extreme opinions expressed by any of the subscribers.

A report in Al Jazeera said that ‘UN investigators’ suspected Facebook of having played a role in spreading hate speech that provoked violence. About two years ago, the company reportedly admitted that it had been ‘too slow’ in addressing the problem.

Recently, a Facebook engineer in the US had to quit his job for alleging that the company had a right-wing bias which was shown by not removing the posts that violated Facebook rules.

In India, the Facebook relationship with the BJP has been highlighted in several media reports. Two top Facebook executives are known to be BJP supporters, one of whom had reportedly prevented a hate-speech of a BJP MLA from Telangana, T. Raja Singh, from the Facebook page in ‘business’ interests.

When voices against alleged Facebook’s pro-BJP tilt became too strong and its executives were summoned by a Parliamentary committee the company announced the decision that it had banned the MLA from using Facebook. The MLA contested the decision, saying that he had been off Facebook for a year! He offered the hackneyed explanation of disowning the authorship of his controversial posts. But it will be hard to accept that the objectionable material on his Facebook account was posted by unknown users.

Two reports – one in the Wall Street Journal and the other in Time magazine have since set off an unsavoury controversy against Facebook in India. BJP initially appeared to rally in defence of Facebook, without, of course, rebutting anything said in the stories run by the two American journals. The party soon launched a counter offensive aimed, oddly enough, at Facebook. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad led an attack on the US social media giant, shooting off a letter accusing it of being pro-Left and favouring the Congress party in India.

In support of his narrative, the minister pointed to posts by Congress members which he thought were offensive to the BJP and which, he said, were not removed by Facebook. But it emerged that Facebook had indeed removed some Congress posts. One cannot say how ‘offensive’ the expunged Congress posts were; there can be a fruitful discussion on hate posts if a comparison is made of BJP and Congress pages on Facebook.

BJP stand is that it was being vilified over the Facebook controversy by ‘selective leaks’ in the media. Well, selected leaks are not new to India. For over a month the whole country is being subjected to an orchestrated hate campaign against a Bollywood actress on the basis of leaked reports by the investigators.

The actress has been tried by the media on the basis of both leaked reports and fiction invented by some TV journalists who have exceeded all limits of decency and defamation laws by pronouncing a former girlfriend of a Bihar-born film star guilty of ‘murdering’ the star, who, Mumbai Police said, had committed suicide. The aim of a campaign of calumny against her is believed to be political, related to assembly polls in Bihar due after two months or so. That these leaked reports are spiced up and seasoned heavily by some TV anchors cannot be denied.

To cut to the American social media giant, how can Facebook in India be believed about its ‘neutrality’. This is the question that has no ready answer as yet amidst conjectures and more conjectures in public domain as also evidence both unvarnished and tainted in circulation.