By Nishant Arora
New Delhi, Dec 26 (IANS) As we gloat over reports how the US and European countries have started to tame the social media platforms in regard to anti-trust market practices, users privacy and the spread of fake news, Big Tech firms had their own iota of controversies in India in 2020, generating enough political heat in the process.
The biggest controversy came in August when the Wall Street Journal reported on the blatant biases of Facebook India’s team, headed by their public policy chief for the country, Ankhi Das.
The report alleged that the top leadership at Facebook’s India office refused to apply the company’s own rules to politicians from the ruling party, despite clear violations of Facebook’s policies against incitement to violence, hate speech and misinformation.
Following the report, the Congress raised the issue of what it calls “unholy nexus” of the ruling BJP with Facebook and WhatsApp.
Shashi Tharoor, the head of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology (IT), called on Facebook to respond to allegations of ignoring hate speech in favour of the ruling party.
Union IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also wrote a hard-hitting letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg, blaming the Facebook India management of alleged bias against people supporting the right-of-centre ideology.
The minister said that as a transnational digital platform, Facebook must not only be fair and neutral, but also “visibly seen to be so, to users of diverse beliefs and ideologies”.
Later, deposing before the Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) on personal data protection Bill 2019, Das was asked how much funds are spent by the social media giant on data safety.
The Facebook executives were also questioned on the quantum of its revenue as well as the profit they are making in India.
A coalition of 41 civil rights groups also demanded that Facebook India should immediately place its public policy head Ankhi Das on a leave of absence pending a full audit of the company and an investigation into her statements as reported in The Wall Street Journal.
The political heat resulted in Das quitting the company in October “to pursue her interest in public service”.
Another WSJ report this month alleged that Facebook discussed banning Bajrang Dal and termed it a dangerous organisation but did not act considering the safety of the employees.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi took to Twitter and said: “Further confirmation that BJP-RSS control Facebook in India.”
However, no stern action was taken on Facebook.
Micro-blogging platform Twitter stirred a major controversy in the second half of the year when it showed Ladakh as part of China.
Twitter had to apologise to a parliamentary panel in a letter, stating that it will fix the issue of geo-tagging Ladakh as part of China and Ladakh will be added as a region administered by India as a union territory.
The micro-blogging platform sent the letter to the panel’s chairperson Meenakshi Lekhi and apologised for the geo-tag error.
A joint committee of Parliament led by BJP MP Lekhi which has 20 members from the Lok Sabha and 10 from the Rajya Sabha, had issued summons to Twitter, seeking an explanation in form of an affidavit.
Taking strong exception to the “misrepresentation” of India’s map, the government also wrote a letter to the Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey, saying that any attempt by the platform to disrespect the sovereignty and integrity of India, which is also reflected by the maps, was totally unacceptable.
In a separate incident, after courting controversy for wrongly showing Jammu and Kashmir as part of China, Twitter said it resolved this particular geo-tag issue.
Several netizens also asked the IT minister and the government to take action against Twitter India as the controversy erupted amid India’s border standoff with China in Ladakh.
(Nishant Arora can be reached at email@example.com)
By Nishant Arora