India’s Federal Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad’s letter to Facebook chief on Tuesday, alleging bias towards the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, follows an exposé by the Wall Street Journal, which reported on 14 August that Facebook was allegedly going soft on BJP members for fear of damaging its business prospects in its biggest market. The company swiftly denied the allegations.
According to political commentator Pradeep Singh, the BJP thinks “posts inimical to it are getting prominence on social media like Facebook and it is a deliberate attempt" by some groups of people, with some of them supposedly operating outside of India.
“You speak about hate speech, but posts abusing Prime Minister Narendra Modi, which are not publishable on any media, find its way on social media,” he says.
Talking to Sputnik, Singh said an impression has been growing in BJP circles that “Western media and left-wing liberals are deliberately trying to lower the image of Prime Minister Modi and the functioning of the government and the party”.
Rahul Gandhi, former chief of India's main opposition party Congress accused Facebook of brazenly attacking India’s democracy and social harmony, as exposed by international media. On Tuesday, he demanded an investigation into such alleged attempts.
A similar charge was made against Facebook by the regional All India Trinamool Congress (AITC) party, which is in power in West Bengal state.
“With the election 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,” wrote Derek O’Brien, AITC lawmaker in a letter to Zuckerberg on 31 August.
Thomas George, President of Cyber Media Research and Services, told Sputnik that despite these claims, Facebook has no foolproof checks and balances to evaluate the content and its impact on society.
“If Facebook does what they are supposed to do, then they should have a clear framework or clear process to evaluate the content to verify if it is fake or real, original or it has any misinformation.”
“Am I running an ad for my profit without looking into how people are getting affected by that or is the bias created by me is right or wrong? Those kinds of introspection or checks and balances are not there,” said George.
The cyber security expert said Facebook has roughly 15,000 to 20,000 personnel for moderating about three to four million posts every day. Each person has to manage about 200 posts, which means they would get 140-150 seconds for every post, to decide if it meets the required standards or violates the guidelines.
George said complaints about Facebook or Twitter of bias is a global phenomenon.
“It is happening in Europe, it is happening in the US and Australia, where data privacy laws are stringent.”
He said though these social media platforms could not “make or break” a political party, they definitely could have a certain social influence.
“Facebook-political party tie-ups are marriage of convenience, the platforms have certain things to offer and the political parties go after them. Every political party is hand in glove with these social media,” added George.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi, during his first term, visited Facebook’s campus in San Francisco on 28 September, 2015. Modi was the first head of government to be hosted at the new Facebook campus, he also addressed a Town Hall event along with Facebook CEO Zuckerberg.
Recently, Facebook made its largest single investment of $5.7 billion into Jio Platforms, promoted by Asia’s richest businessman Mukesh Ambani.