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Former employee accuses Facebook of being ignorant of its policies to favour a BJP MP

Former employee accuses Facebook of being ignorant of its policies to favour a BJP MP
  • Facebook has been caught in another controversy for being accused of showing bias towards the ruling regime.
  • Sophie Zhang, a former employee, says Facebook stopped the checkpoint process after realising one of these networks supports a BJP MP.
  • It’s not the first time Facebook has found itself cornered for its bias towards the BJP.
US-based social media giant Facebook has been accused of being biased towards ministers from the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the ruling party of India. The company allegedly allowed a network of fake accounts, during the fag end of 2019, to inflate the popularity of a Member of Parliament (MP) -- from the BJP -- even after it was alerted about the matter by an employee.

According to The Guardian, Sophie Zhang, a former data scientist at Facebook wrote a 6600-word internal memo in September last year listing examples of how the social media giant allowed the misuse of its platform by political leaders from around the world, including India, to manipulate voters.

The report cites internal corporate documents and the testimony from Zhang to claim that the company was preparing to remove these fake accounts but didn't when it found that the MP was "probably directly involved" in the network. On the other hand, quicker action was taken against other fake account networks, including the ones used by India’s Congress party, which is the only major opposition to BJP in the centre.

Zhang has been sharing experiences from inside Facebook on her Twitter handle. You can read her first-person account in the thread below.

Allegations of Facebook’s support for the ruling party is not new

It is not the first time that Facebook and WhatsApp have been alleged to be complicit in promoting the interests of India’s ruling regime and its seemingly Hindutva agenda. Also, it may not come as a surprise to many, because India is the biggest market for Facebook, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

In August 2020, WSJ reported that Facebook deleted some hateful anti-Muslim posts by T Raja Singh only after the newspaper raised questions. The company's then public policy head in India, Ankhi Das, “opposed applying hate speech rules to Mr Singh and at least three other Hindu nationalist individuals and groups flagged internally for promoting or participating in the violence,” according to the report.

Das told employees, according to the WSJ report, that "punishing violations by politicians from Modi's party would damage the company's business prospects in the country.”

In another instance uncovered by TIME, Shiladitya Dev, a lawmaker in the state of Assam shared a news report about a girl being allegedly drugged and raped by a Muslim man, with his comment: “This is how Bangladeshi Muslims target our [native people] in 2019.” Instead of removing the post, Facebook allowed it to remain online for more than a year until TIME contacted Facebook to ask about it on Aug 21, 2020.

On 10 August 2018, Caravan reported that it was not allowed to boost an article on Facebook which was critical of the BJP’s president Amit Shah. The article claimed that Shah had “misrepresented” his assets and liabilities in his affidavit filed before the Election Commission of India. The magazine did eventually get approval from Facebook, but eleven days later when the story had lost quite a bit of potential. Similarly, a lot of journalists critical of the BJP have been blocked by Facebook in the past.

A report by The Wire, which came out in August last year, revealed how Facebook India lobbied to even organise events within Parliament to strengthen its hold in Indian politics.

The list of such instances is huge, from the hate speech bias to the controversial Cambridge Analytica scandal, Facebook has been accused of supporting the right-wing motive and manipulating votes in their favour.

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