By Abdul Bari Masoud
New Delhi: The Wall Street Journal and Time Magazine’s latest expose of “nexus” between the ruling Bhartiya Janata Party and Facebook has provided new grist to the opposition to attack the Modi government. Main opposition Congress on Monday once again reiterated the demand of a Joint Parliamentary Committee investigation immediately. It also urged a criminal investigation into the affairs of Facebook India and and those involved.
Congress parliamentary party leader in the Lok Sabha, Adhir Ranjan Chowdhury said the latest expose of Facebook’s interference and assault on India’s electoral democracy is a “crying shame and a criminal offence”.
Addressing a press conference via video conferencing along with party social media department incharge, Praveen Chakravarty and Rohan Gupta, he said skeletons from Facebook India’s cupboard are tumbling out faster than our monsoon rains.
In a span of just two weeks, three separate articles in credible international media publications have revealed how Facebook and WhatsApp have colluded with the ruling party BJP to tarnish India’s democracy and tear India’s social harmony.
Referring to Narendra Modi’s victory in the 2014 general elections, Ankhi Das, Head of Facebook India’s public policy team wrote to her colleagues in an internal email that “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history”. Evidently, she was elated at his victory and the big role her company, Facebook, played in helping Modi win.
Chowdhury revealed that Ankhi Das, who joined Facebook in2011, handled Modi’s assembly election campaign in2012.
He quoted her statement “We lit a fire to his social media campaign and the rest is of course history”. This was made after Modi won the 2014 election.
He also quoted two more statements of Das “It’s taken thirty years of grassroots work to rid India of state socialism finally,” and “Mr. Modi is the ‘strongman’, who had broken the former ruling party’s hold”.
Chowdhury said that the Congress party is not alleging this as it has been revealed by the reputed American newspaper ‘The Wall Street Journal’, in its latest article titled ‘Facebook Executive Supported India’s Modi, Disparaged Opposition in Internal Messages’ on August 30, 2020.
These three articles now have clearly established documentary evidence of Facebook’s interference and assault on India’s electoral democracy, congress leader said.
This is the third such investigative article that has exposed Facebook and WhatsApp’s nexus with the BJP which is perhaps the most serious and the gravest charge and offence, he said.
“I say this with the great deal of caution and responsibility that this latest expose of Facebook India’s leadership team’s collusion with the BJP and interference in India’s democracy is nothing but a crying shame and a criminal offence.”
Praveen Chakravarty said as Adhir Babu mentioned, the article cites various quotes by Ms Ankhi Das, who was in the leadership position at Facebook India and continues to be.
“In these internal e-mails, Ms Das establishes 3 things- (1) Establishes a clear preference for the BJP; (2) Apparent negative bias or anti-Congress Party stance; (3) and most importantly allowing these biases to interfere and dictate professional judgments,” Chakravarty elaborated.
“In fact, in one of the massages, internal massages that the article quotes Ms. Das acknowledges to her own employees that she is biased and she is revealing her biases, but, she does not feel sorry about it and this is in response to a questions asked by internal Facebook employees, who seem alarmed at their bosses blatant bias”, he added.
It is to recall that the Congress has written two letters to the Chairman of Facebook Mark Zuckerberg, asking them for an enquiry into the India operations based on the published articles.
Now, based on this article, we wonder if Facebook headquarters are impartial themselves and they are perhaps willing participants and complicit in this interference and interventions in India’s electoral democracy, Chowdhury said.
And adding that, “,Why do I say this, because the article quotes Ms. Katie Harbath, who is the Global head of Elections for Facebook, personally talking about her relationship and Ms. Das’s relationship and proximity to Mr. Narendra Modi and what is shocking is that this approximately goes back almost ten years”
It was not just the 2019 elections, where Facebook India seems to have shown their biases and interference. They have also done this in 2014 General Elections, but, guess what, it did not stop them, and they have also intervened and interfered in Gujarat 2012 Assembly Elections, as revealed in the article.
According to the article, there is a long standing relationship and a history of blatant biases by Facebook India.
In the light of this, Congress is now convinced that this is a very serious, and a criminal offence and the investigation must be taken on by us, in India, he said.
He made it clear that this is not a political issue, this is not an allegation made by the Congress Party or any other political party, and these are facts revealed by international media publications and we cannot take this lying down.
Chowdhury said he will just repeat the demands of the Congress Party makes in the light of the latest expose of Facebook’s interference.
A JPC investigation enquiry immediately:
“A criminal investigation into the affairs of Facebook India and the people named in the Facebook India leadership team as well as in the global team.
All pending approvals and licenses of Facebook and WhatsApp should be put on hold, until these investigations are completed.
Suspension of Facebook India’s leadership team immediately, until the conclusion of the investigation.”
He further said the scope of the enquiry into the activities and operations of all foreign technology companies operating in India under the guise of their public policy teams should be t we must perhaps broadened where there seems to be hectic lobbying and partisanship and interference in India’s affairs.