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Indian parliamentary panel grills Facebook India chief over alleged hate speech, bias

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Ajit Mohan, the managing director of Facebook India, leaves the parliament after a meeting with a parliamentary panel, in New Delhi, India, on September 2, 2020. (Photo by Reuters)

An Indian parliamentary committee has grilled a top Facebook executive in the country, amid raging controversy over the social media giant’s alleged bias and inaction on anti-Muslim posts on its platform.

Ajit Mohan, managing director of Facebook in India, appeared in a closed-door hearing to answer queries by the parliamentary standing committee on information technology on Wednesday.

The hearing was held following accusations that the social media giant had allowed hate speech on its platform and that its top policy official in India had shown favoritism toward Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Committee Chairperson Shashi Tharoor said in a tweet that the 30-member committee “agreed to resume discussions later, including with representatives of Facebook.”

BJP MP Rajyavardhan Rathore, who also attended the meeting, was careful about not divulging intricate details but said, “Facebook India is answerable to the people of our country and were thus questioned on various issues.”

Facebook came under scrutiny after a series of reports by The Wall Street Journal last month revealed that the company ignored anti-Muslim hate speech by BJP leaders and alleged that the media giant’s public policy chief in India, Ankhi Das, had been seemingly sympathetic to Modi’s party in the run-up to last year’s general elections.

In a letter sent to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Tuesday, Indian opposition parliamentarian Derek O’ Brien also said there was “enough material in the public domain, including memos of senior Facebook management (in India)” to show bias favoring the BJP.

Modi’s party and its leaders have repeatedly denied the allegations and instead accused Facebook of censoring pro-India content.

Facebook bans Indian ruling party politician

Meanwhile, Facebook Inc. says it has banned a member of India’s ruling party for violating its policies covering violence and hate on its platforms.

The company said it had banned politician Raja Singh from Facebook and Instagram under its “dangerous individuals and organizations” policy.

Singh has a history of voicing hateful views on social platforms and in public appearances.

A Facebook spokesperson said in a statement that “the process for evaluating potential violators is extensive and it is what led us to our decision to remove his account.”

India is Facebook’s biggest market, with more than 300 million users, while the company’s messaging app WhatsApp boasts 400 million users in the world’s second-most populous nation.

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