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Manish Tewari letter to FB on ‘BJP hate speech’ starts row as lobbying, collusion charges fly

Manish Tewari’s mention of US-based policy expert Bharath Gopalaswamy in the letter has led BJP leader Amit Malviya to accuse him of using a lobbyist to influence FB. 

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New Delhi: The political row over Facebook’s alleged refusal to remove hate speech posted by BJP members deepened Friday with a Twitter slugfest between senior Congress leader Manish Tewari and BJP IT cell chief Amit Malviya.

The war of words began as Malviya tweeted a copy of a letter Tewari wrote to Facebook on 18 August, where the former union minister demanded an answer from the social media giant on the aforementioned allegations, first reported by The Wall Street Journal last week. 

Tewari mentioned US-based policy expert Bharath Gopalaswamy in the letter, and asked Facebook to approach the latter for any “immediate assistance” or “clarification”. 

Malviya cited this instance and accused Tewari of using a “lobbyist” to influence Facebook. Lok Sabha MP Tewari, meanwhile, questioned how exactly the BJP leader had accessed the letter, alleging that this only proved the “alleged collusion” between “certain elements” in Facebook and in the BJP.

Also Read: Privilege vs privilege — Shashi Tharoor, BJP MP take Facebook hate speech row to Speaker

‘A lobbyist’

Malviya posted the letter Thursday, highlighting the portion where Tewari has mentioned Bharath Gopalaswamy, former director of the South Asia Centre at the Washington-based think-tank Atlantic Council.

The portion reads: “My senior policy adviser Dr Bharath Gopalaswamy, PhD is resident in Washington DC and can be contacted if you need any immediate assistance or clarification…”

In his tweet, Malviya questioned if Indian MPs can “hire lobbyists in US masquerading as advisors?” Whose interests do these US based lobbyists serve when they advise Congress MP Manish Tewari?”  

He added that the Atlantic Council “is also a global Facebook partner in its election integrity efforts”.

“In light of these revelations, it is puzzling that the INC (Congress), at the first instance, has clandestinely chosen to use the services of Bharat Gopalaswamy to lobby for INC with Facebook,” he said.

Also Read: Hate speech issues were internally flagged in Facebook in 2018, claims MP Mahua Moitra

‘Have broken no law’

Tewari, however, hit back at Malviya, asking how he had gained access to the letter even before Facebook had acknowledged it.

“My letter has not been acknowledged by Facebook to date. Then how did Amit Malviya gain access to it? I even sent them a reminder this morning, asking them why they haven’t replied to my mail yet,” Tewari told ThePrint.

Tewari also said there is no official agreement between him and Gopalaswamy, and he only seeks his services informally, on a pro-bono basis.

“He only advises me informally. Even for the purpose of argument, we say, I did hire him, which law would I have broken then? He is a private citizen with no relationship with Atlantic Council anymore,” he added.

Gopalaswamy stepped down as director of the South Asia Centre on 31 July 2019. 

In a series of tweets, Tewari hit out at Malviya, asking him who from Facebook gave him the letter.

“Nothing demonstrates alleged collusion between certain elements @Facebook & certain elements in @BJP4India than tweeting of my letter to Facebook Senior Management sent-18th August 2020 in the evening by @amitmalviya,” Tewari tweeted.

BJP president Jay Panda, Tewari further noted, was made a non-resident senior fellow at Atlantic Council in 2018. 

Approached for comment on the allegations, Malviya only said “everything I have to say on the matter is on my Twitter timeline”.

Amid the argument, both Tewari and Malaviya posted photos of BJP and Congress leaders, respectively, with Gopalaswamy. 

Tewari tweeted a picture of BJP general secretary Ram Madhav with Gopalaswamy — allegedly clicked at the Atlantic Council office in May 2018.

Malviya tweeted a picture of Rahul Gandhi and Gopalaswamy participating in a panel discussion held by the think-tank.

Also Read: Facebook, Twitter can’t police on speech violation. Only Indian law can


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