Information technology (IT) minister Ravi Shankar Prasad on Tuesday wrote to Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg raising “serious concerns” over what he described as a bias against centre-right ideology among individuals working in the India office of the social media firm.
He also sent a message to the company to consider laying down India-specific community guidelines for the platform that has 280 million users in India.
Prasad, whose letter turns the table on opposition allegations of pro-government bias against Facebook, also raised the issue of third-party fact-checkers, likely signalling the way forward for all social media platforms.
In a strongly worded letter, the minister said Facebook employees are “on record” abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi and senior cabinet ministers, while still working and managing important positions in India. “It is doubly problematic when the bias of individuals becomes an inherent bias of the platform. And it is unacceptable when political biases of individuals impinge on the freedom of speech of millions of people.”
Prasad said while individuals working in any organization may have their individual likes or dislikes, that must not have any bearing on the public policy of the organization.
“It seems from credible media reports that Facebook India team, right from the India managing director to other senior officials, is dominated by people who belong to particular political belief,” Prasad said.
Facebook India declined to comment on the letter.
The development comes two days after the Wall Street Journal reported that Facebook’s India public policy head, Ankhi Das, had written multiple celebratory internal posts between 2012 and 2014, praising the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), including claiming to have “lit a fire” to Modi’s 2014 general elections campaign.
Former Congress president Rahul Gandhi has accused Facebook of favouring the BJP, alleging the firm was controlled by the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, or RSS, in India.
Prasad, however, said Facebook did not support right-of-centre ideology. “I have been informed that in the run-up to 2019 general elections in India, there was a concerted effort by Facebook India management to not just delete pages or substantially reduce their reach but also offer no recourse or right of appeal to affected people who are supportive of right-of-centre ideology. I am also aware that dozens of letters written to the Facebook management received no response,” he said.
He added, “To respect the social, religious, cultural, linguistic diversity of India, Facebook should put in place country-specific community guidelines.”
Legal experts said none of the digital platforms has country-specific community guidelines as users on these platforms are not restricted by geography—hence, the nature of content and sharing occurs globally. However, Facebook includes ‘caste’ as a protected group, while censoring hate speech on its platform.