BJP, RSS control FB, WhatsApp, says Congress; demands JPC inquiry
New Delhi, August 16, 2020
Accusing the BJP and the RSS of controlling Facebook and WhatsApp in India, the Congress on Sunday alleged that the two had attacked democracy in the country and demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into alleged violations by the social media platform and its messaging service.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "BJP and RSS control Facebook and WhatsApp in India. They spread fake news and hatred through it and use it to influence the electorate.
"Finally, the American media has come out with the truth about Facebook."
He tagged a Wall Street Journal report on the issue.
Congress leader Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted: "Facebook - WhatsApp sinister connection to BJP government exposed! Is Facebook being used to spread 'Fake News' and 'Hate Material'? What is the connect of Facebook-India leaders to BJP?
"Does it not warrant a JPC probe?"
Addressing a virtual press conference, Congress spokesperson and former Union Minister Ajay Maken said: "There are 40 crore Indians on WhatsApp and over 28 crore on Facebook. So, a probe is necessary into the commercial dealings, propagation of hate content, and connection of Facebook and WhatsApp employees with the BJP."
"The bias and alignment of the Facebook India's leadership team with the BJP and RSS is not limited to just their Head of Public Policy in India. There are many others in that leadership team with a close working relationship with the BJP."
The Congress said that the government too should clarify the "quid pro quo" with WhatsApp and Facebook and what type of business dealings they had with the government.
Congress Data Department Chairman Praveen Chakravorty said: "I met the WhatsApp CEO and raised the issue in the past after the Congress Working Committee took it up, and the CEO heard me politely but did not act."
The Congress said it had raised the issue with the Facebook team in India. "We met the team of Ankhi Das on May 15 and complained about the manipulative content; the team heard us but did nothing," claimed Rohan Gupta, Congress Social Media head. Das is the Public Policy Director, Facebook-India, South and Central Asia.
"What gave Facebook the guts and the gumption to intrude, interfere, and intervene in the world's largest democratic exercise? First and foremost, we must remember that this is not just about Facebook. Facebook also owns WhatsApp. Facebook and WhatsApp control information, news, and communication for millions of Indians. And the BJP controls Facebook and WhatsApp in India," said Chakravorty.
Asked if the Congress lost past elections due to this "manipulation", the Congress leaders said that it is not only elections but its effect on the nation as a whole. The party asserted that it was like attacking the country's soul by propagating one-sided content which is "mostly of hatred".
"Yesterday was a unique day. We celebrated our Independence Day and freedom from the British. But later in the day, a reputed American newspaper told us how we Indians are not truly free yet. How hundreds of millions of Indians are controlled, divided, and manipulated through fake news and hate speech propagated by the ruling party through the US social media giant, Facebook," the Congress added.
The party leaders quoted sentences from the Wall Street Journal story to stress their points.
The United States' Congress has summoned Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and investigated its role in election manipulation in the past. The UK too has issued warnings to Facebook. Facebook was accused of similar interference in Brazil.
"India's rich electoral democracy cannot be sacrificed at the altar of Facebook and WhatsApp," the Congress asserted.