Facebook India Head Ajit Mohan grilled by the parliamentary panel over alleged political ‘bias’

A Parliamentary panel on Wednesday questioned the Facebook India head, Ajit Mohan, for over three hours, with both BJP and Congress members of the panel accusing the social media giant of colluding and influencing opinion, a charge denied by the firm.

While BJP members raised questions about alleged political links of the Facebook employees, claiming that many of its senior executives have worked with the Congress and its leaders in different capacities, the opposition members asked why content, including videos containing hate speech were still available online and not taken down by the social media giant.

Sources claim that Ajit Mohan was questioned by both Congress and BJP. He gave oral answers to some of their questions but he was asked to submit a written response to nearly 90 questions.

The parliamentary panel asked about 100 questions to the India Head during interrogation.

The parties questioned him about Cambridge Analytica, then policies regarding fact-checking and their influence in elections.

“There were several issues related to Facebook which were discussed and Congress raised the issue of the articles and the alleged collusion between BJP and Facebook. However, the representative from Facebook denied the charges and asserted that they followed global standards in reporting posts. He also denied that there was any collusion with the BJP,” a source, who was present in the meeting said on the condition of anonymity.

After the hearing, a Facebook company spokesperson said, “We thank the Honorable Parliamentary Committee for their time. We remain committed to being an open and transparent platform, and giving people a voice and allowing them to express themselves freely.”

panel chief Shashi Tharoor tweeted “in response to overwhelming media interest in the meeting of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Information Technology…This is all I can say: We met for some three and a half hours and unanimously agreed to resume the discussion later, including with representatives of Facebook.”

The meeting went on for about 200 minutes.

The discussions could be concluded therefore the panel unanimously decided to call a meeting on September 10th.

Sources said, there was also a feeling that some in the committee want to remove Tharoor as chairperson and one member also gave a sort of a ‘farewell speech’ for Tharoor, suggesting he may not remain the head of the Parliamentary panel.

After the Congress and the BJP, the Trinamool Congress also wrote to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg raising the issue of alleged bias of the social media giant towards the BJP and claimed that there is enough evidence in the public domain to substantiate this charge.

Tharoor’s announcement that the panel would like to hear from Facebook about a recent report published in the Wall Street Journal claiming that the social media platform ignored applying its hate-speech rules to some BJP politicians had evoked a strong reaction from the ruling party members in the panel.

BJP MP Nishikant Dubey had alleged that the Congress leader has been using the panel’s platform to further his and his party’s political agenda and even demanded his removal as chairman.

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also wrote to Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, accusing the social media platform’s employees of supporting people from a political predisposition that lost successive elections, and “abusing” Prime Minister and senior cabinet ministers.

In a three-page letter to Facebook Chief Executive Zuckerberg, Prasad alleged “bias and inaction” by individuals in the Facebook India team on complaints by people supportive of right-of-center ideology. 

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