New Delhi: Sharpening its attack on the ruling party, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi Sunday said the “BJP and RSS control Facebook and WhatsApp in India”.
Gandhi was referring to a news report by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) on 14 August that said Facebook India had turned a blind eye to hate speech by a BJP leader and three other “Hindu nationalist individuals and groups” to avoid damaging the social media platform’s business prospects in its biggest market.
The allegation has given opposition parties more ammunition to target the BJP over hate speech.
“BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate. Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook (sic),” Gandhi tweeted.
BJP & RSS control Facebook & Whatsapp in India.
They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate.
Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook. pic.twitter.com/Y29uCQjSRP
— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) August 16, 2020
Responding to Gandhi’s tweet, MP and senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor also posted, “The Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology would certainly wish to hear from @Facebook about these reports & what they propose to do about hate-speech in India.”
Another senior Congress leader, Manish Tewari, termed the expose “disturbing” and said it suggested interference in Indian electoral and democratic processes. He also demanded a parliamentary probe into the matter in India as well as in the US.
“Expose by @WSJ of @Facebook & Ankhi Das are disturbing.Suggests interference in Indian electoral&democratic processes.Needs Parliamentary probe in India & US JPC of Indian Parlament & US Congress must examine issues in depth,” Tewari wrote, tagging Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Vice President M. Venkaiah Naidu and WSJ journalists Newley Purnell and Jeff Horwitz.
Expose by @WSJ of @Facebook & Ankhi Das are disturbing.
Suggests interference in Indian electoral&democratic processes.Needs Parliamentary probe in India & US
JPC of Indian Parlament & US Congress must examine issues in depth.@ombirlakota ,@MVenkaiahNaidu @newley,@JeffHorwitz pic.twitter.com/LTGkvYBes3
— Manish Tewari (@ManishTewari) August 16, 2020
TMC leader Derek O Brien also shared a tweet by Mihir Sharma, a senior fellow at the Observer Research Foundation, on the article. Sharma had asked why the “most important story” could not be done by an Indian media house.
Last year, the TMC leader had accused Facebook of being a “de facto campaigner of the Bharatiya Janata Party” during the Lok Sabha elections. He later also alleged in the Rajya Sabha that “Facebook censored anti-BJP content and its Delhi office was an extension of the BJP Information Technology cell”.
‘You were in alliance with Cambridge Analytica’
The opposition, especially Congress leader Gandhi, has been of late attacking the Narendra Modi government on several fronts, including its alleged mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, the standoff with China and the economic situation.
But as several Congress leaders referred to the WSJ article Sunday, BJP was quick to react. Union minister Ravi Shankar Prasad reminded Gandhi of the three-year-old Cambridge Analytica scandal.
“Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS. You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us?” Prasad posted on Twitter.
Losers who cannot influence people even in their own party keep cribbing that the entire world is controlled by BJP & RSS.
You were caught red-handed in alliance with Cambridge Analytica & Facebook to weaponise data before the elections & now have the gall to question us? https://t.co/NloUF2WZVY
— Ravi Shankar Prasad (@rsprasad) August 16, 2020
He added: “The fact is that today access to information and freedom of expression has been democratized. It is no longer controlled by retainers of your family and that is why it hurts. Btw, haven’t yet heard your condemnation of the Bangalore riots. Where did your courage disappear?”
BJP MLA Kapil Mishra, who has been accused of hate speech ahead of the Northeast Delhi riots earlier this year and the assembly elections, alleged that the Congress is blackmailing Facebook to hide “some serious crimes“.
Headlined ‘Facebook’s Hate-Speech Rules Collide With Indian Politics’, the WSJ report has quoted former and current Facebook employees as saying that some accounts, flagged for “promoting or participating in violence”, were spared a ban at the intervention of the company’s top public policy executive in the country, Ankhi Das.
One of the BJP leaders cited in the WSJ report is Telangana MLA T. Raja Singh, who has been associated with multiple provocative social media posts against Muslims. Similar charges have been made about posts made by Kapil Mishra and BJP MP Anantkumar Hegde, who are known for frequent provocative remarks on social media.