Amid a furore over the Wall Street Journal reports that Facebook India policy head Ankhi Das allegedly favoured the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party had hit back, claiming that Rahul Gandhi’s former aide too works at Facebook.
“Meet Vijaya Moorthy. Supposedly, heads government outreach at Facebook. Worked with Rahul Gandhi’s team for nearly a decade (love for his former boss still going strong),” BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya alleged on Sunday evening. “Talk about Congress-Facebook nexus? Well, it seems Congress is running Facebook!”
The Congress has been in up in arms over Wall Street Journal’s revelations, attacking the BJP everyday for undermining the democratic ethos of the country.
“#Facebook was subverting India’s Democracy & Electoral Process. Shocking & gory details revealed by @wsj_com. If this is not “Criminality”, what is? Nothing short of a “full independent investigation” will unravel all the layers of BJP-Facebook nexus,” party’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala posted on Twitter on Monday.
Hindustan Times reached out to Facebook for a comment but did not receive one till the publication of this article. The social media giant is slated to appear before the Information and Technology standing committee chaired Congress leader Shashi Tharoor on September 2.
The Wall Street Journal in its second report late Sunday evening put out messages by Facebook’s India public policy head where she claims to have ‘lit a fire to his (PM Modi’s) social media campaign’ a day ahead of the 2014 elections.
The social networking company has been courting controversy since earlier this month when reports emerged that Das had allegedly let communal posts by members of the ruling BJP slide, even though they were in violation of Facebook’s hate-speech policy.
According to the new report, Das had praised Prime Minister Narendra Modi as the “strongman” who had broken the Congress’ socialist hold on the state. The posts were made in a Facebook group designed for employees in India, but it was open to a global audience. The report also mentions a photograph of Das with her “longest fellow traveller” top global elections official Katie Harbath and Modi.
Facebook spokesperson Andy Stone had put out a statement in the aftermath of the political storm created by reports of alleged bias on part of Facebook’s team. Stone, a Facebook spokesperson, had said that the reports were taken out of context and don’t represent the full extent of the support the social media company extends to all political parties.
Das, according to the report, arrived at Facebook in 2011, ‘a time when the social media giant was eager to demonstrate its utility in politics’. “It rolled out training for several Indian political parties on how best to use the platform to mobilize supporters. One was Mr. Modi’s 2012 campaign for re-election as chief minister of the western Indian state of Gujarat,” states the report.
The report adds Das, in 2012, had written after Modi’s victory of the “success of our Gujarat campaign”, which was close to reaching a million fans on Facebook.
“Mr. Modi soon launched his campaign for national office, with Facebook again offering training and assistance… Ms. Das made her sentiments on the race clear. When a fellow staffer noted in response to one of her internal posts that the BJP’s primary opponent, the Indian National Congress, had a larger following on Facebook than Mr. Modi’s individual page, Ms. Das responded: “Don’t diminish him by comparing him with INC. Ah well—let my bias not show,” the report adds.
The report also alleges that the company has acted in a biased manner when taking down fake pages and accounts during India’s 2019 national elections. “In another incident, which hasn’t been previously reported, Facebook declined to act after discovering that the BJP was circumventing its political ad transparency requirements, according to people familiar with the matter,” according to the report.
“Facebook neither took down the pages nor flagged the ads. Instead, it privately raised the matter with the BJP, according to former employees in both India and the US, where the decision was discussed,” it adds.
BJP’s IT cell chief Amit Malviya also hit back at the Wall Street Journal on Monday. “How come the mandarins at WSJ keep missing Ankhi Das’ posts sympathetic to the Aam Aadmi Party or the Trinamool Congress? And keep harping on her perceived bias for the Bharatiya Janata Party? Is it because they want people who are uncompromisingly Left,” Malviya wrote on Twitter.