Ankhi Das openly supported BJP on Facebook’s internal group, says WSJ report; Congress seeks criminal probe against social media giant

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According to the report, messages written by Das showed her praising Narendra Modi as the ‘strongman’ who ended the Congress’ hold in India

Facebook’s policy director for India and South and Central Asia, Ankhi Das, posted messages of her support for BJP for several years on an internal group of the company’s employees, detailing efforts to help the party win the 2014 national election, according to a report by  The Wall Street Journal.

According to the report, Das, just a day before Prime Minister Narendra Modi swept the 2014 general election to victory had written: “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history.”

This message, along with several others—posted between 2012 and 2014—was reported by WSJ in its report published on 30 August.

Other messages by Das showed her praising Modi as the ‘strongman’ who ended the Congress’ hold in India. Before the 2014 elections, she wrote that Facebook had been lobbying the BJP for months to include the company’s top priorities in the party’s campaign. “Now they just need to go and win the elections,” she wrote.

The posts were made in a Facebook group designed for employees in India, but it was open to a global audience, according to Hindustan Times

According to The Wire, Das’ Facebook colleague, Katie Harbath – a Republican and Facebook’s top global elections official – had written that Das characterised Modi as “the George W Bush of India”.

Further, the Wall Street Journal report states, “When a fellow staffer noted in response to one of her internal posts that the BJP’s primary opponent, the Indian National Congress, had a larger following on Facebook than Mr. Modi’s individual page, Ms. Das responded: ‘Don’t diminish him by comparing him with INC. Ah well—let my bias not show.”

Taking note of the report, Indian National Congress on Monday launched a scathing attack on Facebook for interfering with India’s electoral democracy.

The party has demanded that a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation should be launched on the matter immediately.

The Congress has also demanded a criminal investigation into the affairs of Facebook in India and the people involved.

“The article reveals how despite questions raised by other employees in Facebook India and the company’s claims of neutrality, Das and her leadership team were arrogant and blatant in their biases,” the party said in a press release.

Quoting the WSJ, the Congress has said that Facebook and WhatsApp’s role in subverting India’s democracy is now “unquestionable and beyond doubt.”  The companies’ complicity in propagating hate speech and fake news to favour the BJP in elections is confirmed, alleged the Opposition party.

Aside from the parliamentary inquiry and criminal investigation, Congress has also demanded three additional measures that should be taken against Facebook. These are:

  • All pending approvals and licenses for Facebook & WhatsApp to be put on hold until the investigations are completed.
  • Suspension of Facebook India’s leadership team with immediate effect until the conclusion of the investigations.
  • An inquiry by the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology into the activities of all Heads of Public Policy teams of foreign technology companies operating in India and establish a code of conduct.

Earlier, party leader Shashi Tharoor had said that the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology “would certainly wish to hear” from Facebook about the report.

Das has been at the centre of a political storm after WSJ’s previous report revealed she had opposed applying hate-speech rules to some Hindu nationalist individuals and groups, as well as posts by a BJP politician.

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